Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

by
The justice court properly denied Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during the interrogation of Defendant by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Park (FWP) game wardens at a game check station. Defendant was charged with license, permit or tag offense; unlawful possession, transfer, or transport of game animal; and hunting or killing of a game animal over the legal limit. Defendant moved to suppress evidence gathered at the FWP check station, asserting that his incriminating statements were the fruits of an illegal interrogation. The justice court concluded that Defendant was not required to receive Miranda warnings because he was not subject to custodial interrogation at the check station. Defendant was then found guilty on all three counts. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant was not taken into custody for purposes of Miranda, and therefore, the statements he made to FWP game wardens were admissible against him; and (2) under the totality of the circumstances, Defendant’s admissions and confession were voluntary. View "State v. Maile" on Justia Law

by
Defendant entered a guilty plea to aggravated driving under the influence, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. After an evidentiary hearing on appeal, the district court denied Defendant’s motion to suppress. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, under the totality of the circumstances, a corroborated tip from an identified citizen informant based, in part, on personal observations of a co-worker was sufficiently reliable to provide the law enforcement officer with particularized suspicion to stop Defendant’s vehicle. Therefore, the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress. View "State v. Zietlow" on Justia Law

by
The district court did not err in ruling that Defendant’s federal conviction for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine did not bar a subsequent state prosecution for possession of dangerous drugs on double jeopardy grounds. Defendant pled guilty to a charge of conspiracy to distribute in federal court. Thereafter, Defendant moved to dismiss the State’s drug-related charges, arguing that the State prosecution violated Montana’s double jeopardy prohibition. The district court denied the motion to dismiss. Thereafter, Defendant entered an Alford plea to one count of felony criminal possession of dangerous drugs, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant’s possession of methamphetamine for his personal use was a distinct and separate prosecutable offense pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 45-9-102(1). View "State v. Glass" on Justia Law

by
In 2009, Appellant was convicted of aggravated kidnapping and sexual intercourse without consent. In 2011, Appellant filed a complaint against certain participants in his 2009 criminal trial, alleging that the victim unlawfully taped a conversation between the victim and Appellant, and the taping and subsequent use of the taped conversation by Defendants violated his constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment and the federal wiretap statute. The federal magistrate dismissed the complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim. A federal district court judge affirmed. Appellant then filed a complaint in a Montana district court, alleging that the victim had recorded their telephone conversation and Defendants had used the taped conversation in violation of Montana’s privacy in communications state and his state and federal constitutional rights. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants, concluding that Appellant’s case was barred by the statute of limitations and the doctrine of res judicata. The court also declared Appellant a vexatious litigant and imposed a pre-filing order on him. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) properly applied the statute of limitations and doctrine of res judicata, and (2) did not abuse its discretion in finding Appellant to be a vexatious litigant and imposing a pre-filing order. View "Belanus v. Potter" on Justia Law

by
Pursuant to a plea agreement, Defendant pleaded guilty to the possession of dangerous drugs and drug paraphernalia. Defendant preserved his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress evidence seized during the warrantless search of the vehicle he was driving. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court made sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law in its order denying Defendant’s motion to suppress to allow informed appellate review; and (2) the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress, as the police did not need to obtain Defendant’s consent to search the vehicle and its internal compartments. View "State v. Baty" on Justia Law

by
Allen Longsoldier, Jr., an eighteen-year-old Native American, died as a result of alcohol withdrawal while in custody at the Hill County Detention Center after he was arrested by Blaine County authorities. Longsoldier’s estate filed a claim against Blaine and Hill Counties with the Montana Human Rights Bureau alleging that the Counties discriminated against Longsoldier because of his race and his disability - alcoholism. A hearing officer concluded that the Counties had not illegally discriminated against Longsoldier. The Human Rights Commission found clear error in the hearing officer’s findings of fact and concluded that the Counties had discriminated against Longsoldier. Presiding Judge Jeffrey Sherlock with the district court reversed the Commission’s decision and reinstated the hearing officer’s order as the final agency decision. On the Estate’s motion to alter or amend, Judge James Reynolds, who had assumed jurisdiction of the case, found that Judge Sherlock had committed a “manifest error of law” by fashioning an improper remedy. The Supreme Court affirmed Judge Sherlock’s order and reversed Judge Reynold’s order, holding (1) Judge Sherlock correctly concluded that the Commission improperly modified the Hearing Officer’s findings; and (2) Judge Reynolds incorrectly concluded that Judge Sherlock erred as a matter of law by reinstating the hearing officer’s decision as the final agency decision. View "Blaine County v. Stricker" on Justia Law

by
Pursuant to a plea agreement, Defendant entered a plea of guilty to the charge of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs with intent to distribute. After a sentencing hearing, the district court imposed a six-year deferred sentence, with a $1,500 fine to be paid to the Eastern Montana Drug Task Force, and a $15,000 fine pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 45-9-130. Defendant appealed, challenging the imposition of the $15,000 fine. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the $15,000 fine was not a sentence enhancement that violated the requirements of Apprendi v. New Jersey and Mont. Code Ann. 46-1-401; (2) the $15,000 fine did not violate Montana’s constitutional prohibition of “excessive fines”; and (3) Defendant’s double jeopardy argument, which he did not raise below, did not warrant plain error review, and Defendant was not entitled to relief pursuant to the Lenihan Rule. View "State v. Le" on Justia Law

by
Donnie Dorrell Nolan was incarcerated at the Yellowstone County Detention Facility at the time that RiverStone Health Care contracted with Yellowstone County to prove medical services for its inmates. Nolan filed a pro se complaint against RiverStone alleging that it violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by denying him access to a prescribed pain medication while incarcerated. The district court dismissed Nolan’s complaint for lack of timely service of process. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly dismissed Nolan’s complaint due to his failure to comply with the mandatory rules for proper service of process on RiverStone. View "Nolan v. Riverstone Health Care" on Justia Law

by
Pursuant to a plea agreement, Defendant pleaded guilty to DUI per se. Defendant appealed the municipal court’s denial of her motion to suppress blood test results on the ground that, by remaining silent, she did not voluntarily consent to the blood test. The district court affirmed, ruling that Defendant consented to the blood draw pursuant to Montana’s implied consent law, Mont. Code Ann. 61-8-402(1), and that the municipal court did not err by finding that she did not withdraw that consent. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant’s passive compliance to the blood test was insufficient to constitute a withdrawal of her implied consent; and (2) therefore, the municipal court correctly denied Defendant’s motion to suppress her blood test results. View "City of Great Falls v. Allderdice" on Justia Law

by
A rockfall damaged the residence of Jane Deschner and Jon Lodge (together, Plaintiffs) near the Billings Rimrocks (Rims). The City of Billings owned the property from which the slab fell, and the State maintained a highway that ran on top of the Rims north of Plaintiffs’ property. In 1963, the State improved the highway, rerouting it and installing culverts underneath the new roadway to facilitate water runoff. As relevant to this appeal, Plaintiffs sued the State, claiming inverse condemnation. At trial, Plaintiffs argued that the State’s construction and placement of the highway and a culvert caused an unnatural increase in the amount of water that ran off the highway onto the rockfall site, ultimately causing the slab to fall onto their home. The jury returned a special verdict finding that the State was not negligent, that Plaintiffs’ negligence was a substantial factor in bringing about their own damages, and that the State did not inversely condemn Plaintiffs’ property. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court’s instruction on inverse condemnation was not erroneous. View "Deschner v. State, Department of Highways" on Justia Law