Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of negligent homicide, holding that Defendant's trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to serve a subpoena upon or otherwise preserve the testimony of a crucial defense witness for trial. Defendant was convicted of negligent homicide and two counts of felony criminal endangerment. The district court sentenced Defendant to a term of imprisonment and imposed restitution to be paid to Justin Gallup and Tiffany Rowell. Defendant appealed the negligent homicide conviction and also asserted that the district court erred by failing to deduct the $50,000 paid by his insurance - $25,000 to both Gallup and Rowell - from each's restitution award. The Supreme Court reversed the negligent homicide conviction, holding (1) trial counsel was ineffective because there was no justifiable reason not to subpoena the crucial witness sufficiently in advance of trial to assure his attendance; and (2) the district court erred in failing to deduct funds paid by Defendant's insurance to Gallup and Powell from their restitution awards. View "State v. Santoro" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's parental rights, holding that Father's due process rights were infringed by ineffective assistance of counsel resulting in his parental rights being inappropriately terminated. On appeal, Father argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when his court-appointed counsel failed assiduously to advocate for him throughout her representation. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that Father's initial appointed counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel, and because of that ineffective assistance, Father was prejudiced, and his parental rights were terminated. The Court remanded this case for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division to conduct initial preliminary assessment of Father as the first placement option for the child consistent with its policies and this opinion. View "In re E.Y.R." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of sexual intercourse without consent, burglary, and sexual assault, holding that the district court abused its discretion by denying Defendant's motion to strike juror M.J. for cause. After the jurors were selected in this case, the bailiff informed the court that a juror, M.J., had stated to the bailiff that "he is pretty sure the Defendant is guilty" based upon the juror's assessment of the statements used by defense counsel during voir dire. The court denied defense counsel's subsequent motion to strike M.J. for cause, and the trial resumed with M.J. being empaneled and sworn. After Defendant was convicted he appealed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, based on a totality of circumstances, there was a troubling pattern that should have resulted in M.J.'s removal, and the district court abused its discretion in denying Defendant's motion to dismiss M.J. for cause. View "State v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court denying Appellant's motion to dismiss based on a finding that law enforcement had the requisite particularized suspicion to initiate a traffic stop, holding that the traffic stop was not justified under Mont. Code Ann. 46-5-401. The justice court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss, concluding that the police officer who initiated the traffic stop lacked particularized suspicion. The district court disagreed and Defendant's motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the officer did not have objective data available to him to support a particularized suspicion that Defendant was committing, had committed, or was about to commit an offense, and therefore, the traffic stop was not justified pursuant to section 46-5-401. View "State v. Reeves" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court affirming the final agency decision issued by the Montana Human Rights Commission (HRC) finding that Jerry James Bright was subjected to racial discrimination in his employment KB Enterprises, LLC, d/b/a Snappitz (KB), holding the district court correctly affirmed the final agency decision and dismissed KB's petition for judicial review. On appeal, KB argued that the hearing officer made numerous incorrect findings of fact and that the HRC and district court wrongly upheld the hearing officer's decision. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the hearing officer's findings of fact were not clearly erroneous and did not misapprehend the effect of evidence and that no mistake was made. View "KB Enterprises, LLC v. Montana Human Rights Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court convicting Defendant of evidence tampering and deliberate homicide, holding that investigating officers had a reasonable suspicion of exigent circumstances justifying a no-knock entry into Defendant's residence and that the forensic search of Defendant's computer was not constitutionally infirm. At issue on appeal were weather the district court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant that did not explicitly authorize a no-knock entry and whether the court properly denied Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained through a forensic search of his computer. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) State v. Anyan, 104 P.3d 511 (Mont. 2004), is overturned insofar as it requires investigating officers to obtain authorization from a judge to execute a no-knock entry, and officers may execute a no-knock entry where they have a reasonable suspicion of exigent circumstances justifying it; (2) officers may seize an electronic device pursuant to a warrant where the type of evidence the officers are looking for could reasonably be found on the device, and where officers are lawfully in possession of property, they may subsequently search the property pursuant to a search warrant; and (3) the jury instructions in this case were proper. View "State v. Neiss" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the district court's order denying Defendant's motion to dismiss for violation of his right to a speedy trial, holding that the 422-delay in resolving Defendant's felony driving under the influence (DUI) charge violated Defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial. Defendant pleaded guilty to felony DUI 422 days after he was arrested and charged, a delay stretching far beyond the 200-day threshold. After examining the speedy trial violation under the four-factor test set forth in State v. Ariegwe, 167 P.3d 815 (Mont. 2007), the Supreme Court reversed, holding that the State violated Defendant's right to a speedy trial. The Court remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the charge. View "State v. Kurtz" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court terminating Mother's parental rights to Child and remanded for the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division (Department) to engage in reasonable efforts to reunify Mother with Child, holding that the Department failed to provide reasonable efforts to reunify Mother and Child. On appeal, Mother argued that the Department violated her fundamental constitutional right to parent and abused its discretion by failing to provide her with the required reasonable efforts to reunify her with Child. The Supreme Court agreed and remanded the case, holding (1) the Department failed to provide reasonable efforts to reunite Mother and Child; and (2) the district court erred in its determination that the Department established by clear and convincing evidence that the condition rendering Mother unfit to safely parent was not likely to change within a reasonable time. View "In re R.J.F." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Defendant's motions to suppress, holding that the district court reached the right result even if for the wrong reason. Defendant pled guilty to misdemeanor DUI per se, reserving his right to appeal the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss. On appeal, Defendant argued that prior to the stop of his vehicle, there was no particularized suspicion to investigate him for any potential driving offense. The district court concluded that the police officer had particularized suspicion to investigate Defendant pursuant to an analysis under State v. Pratt, 951 P.2d 37 (Mont. 1997), and denied Defendant's motions to dismiss on that basis. The Supreme Court affirmed, albeit on different grounds, holding (1) the officer's approach to Defendant was a routine police encounter that did not require particularized suspicion; and (2) the officer acquired particularized suspicion for further investigation upon Defendant's voluntary participation in his questioning and testing. View "State v. Questo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court finding Defendant guilty of criminal possession of dangerous drugs and drug paraphernalia and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), holding that the district court did not err. Specifically, the Court held that the district court did not err when it (1) denied Defendant's motion in limine to prevent the arresting officer from testifying at trial; (2) denied Defendant's motion to suppress evidence seized from his vehicle where probable cause existed to issue a warrant authorizing a search of his truck; and (3) denied Defendant's motion to dismiss the DUI charge due to the State's failure to preserve video evidence where there was no reasonable probability that the outcome of Defendant's DUI charge would be different had the video not been overwritten. View "State v. Robertson" on Justia Law