Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court reversed the municipal court’s order denying Petitioner’s motion to dismiss the charge against him, holding that the municipal court abused its discretion in declaring a mistrial and in concluding that double jeopardy did not bar Petitioner’s retrial. Petitioner was charged with partner or family member assault (PFMA). The City of Billings moved for a mistrial, and the trial judge declared a mistrial based on the purportedly inconsistent testimony of a City’s witness. The judge then rescheduled Petitioner’s trial. Petitioner filed a motion to dismiss the PFMA on double jeopardy grounds. The municipal court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) there was no manifest necessity to discontinue the trial, and Petitioner’s conduct did not demonstrate a waiver of his right to object to termination of the proceedings and to a retrial; and (2) therefore, retrying Petitioner for the PFMA charge would violate his federal and state fundamental constitutional rights to be free from double jeopardy. View "Billings ex rel. Huertas v. Billing" on Justia Law

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The district court erred by concluding that particularized suspicion did not exist for the investigatory stop of Defendant. The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court reversing the municipal court’s order denying Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence related to his arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). The district court concluded that the trial court’s finding that Defendant was apprehended for a technical violation was clearly erroneous. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the district court erred in finding from the evidence that Defendant was stopped for “alleged behavior,” which required its own assessment and speculation about the record; and (2) there was substantial evidence in the record to support the municipal court’s findings of fact about the reasons that Defendant’s vehicle was stopped. View "City of Helena v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Mont. Code Ann. 53-21-119(1), which prohibits a person from waiving the right to counsel in civil commitment proceedings, does not violate the Sixth or the Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. After the State filed a petition to involuntarily commit Respondent, Respondent advised the district court that he wished to waive counsel and represent himself. The district court denied Respondent’s request. The district court later approved a stipulation entered into by Respondent, together with his appointed counsel, for commitment to community-based treatment, and ordered Respondent’s commitment. On appeal, Respondent argued that section 53-21-119(1) violates his constitutional rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Due Process clause does not establish as fundamental the right to represent oneself in civil commitment proceedings; and (2) the prohibition against waiver in civil commitment proceedings is reasonably related to a permissible legislative objective. View "In re S.M." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence of a traffic stop based on the law enforcement officer’s lack of particularized suspicion. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court concluded that that particularized suspicion existed and denied the motion. Defendant then entered a nolo contendere plea to driving under the influence. Defendant appealed, challenging the denial of his motion to suppress. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, based on the totality of the circumstances, the district court’s determination that particularized suspicion existed was not clearly erroneous. View "State v. Nelson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court affirming the justice court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained subsequent to an investigative law enforcement stop. On appeal, the district court concluded that sufficient particularized suspicion of criminal activity existed to temporarily detain Defendant for questioning prior to arrest. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the justice court erred in concluding that the officers had an objectively reasonable particularized suspicion that Defendant had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a criminal offense. Therefore, the justice court erred in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained subsequent to his seizure. View "State v. Hoover" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the city court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to dismiss the charges of reckless driving, criminal mischief, DUI-second offense, and negligent endangerment. In his motion, Defendant argued that the arresting officer failed to read the Montana implied consent advisory and that the failure violated Defendant’s due process rights. After the city court denied the motion, Defendant pleaded guilty to reckless driving, criminal mischief, and DUI-first offense. The district court upheld the denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress, ruling that the appropriate remedy for the failure of an officer to advise an accused of the right to an independent test is the suppression of any blood or breath tests the State may have undertaken. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because there was no test result in this case, there was nothing to suppress; and (2) the officer’s failure to notify Defendant of his right to obtain an independent blood test did not impede Defendant’s right to obtain such a test, nor did it not violate Defendant’s due process rights. View "State v. Berger" on Justia Law

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The district court correctly denied Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence based on an alleged lack of particularized suspicion to seize his vehicle. A trooper stopped Defendant for expired North Dakota vehicle registration. The trooper informed Defendant that he had a particularized suspicion of criminal activity within the vehicle and therefore would deploy a drug canine. After the dog alerted near the driver’s side door, the trooper applied for and received a warrant to search the vehicle. The State later charged Defendant with multiple drug counts. The district court denied Defendant’s motion to suppress, and Defendant pleaded guilty to possession of dangerous drugs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in concluding that the canine search of Defendant’s vehicle was lawfully conducted pursuant to a particularized suspicion of narcotics activity; and (2) the search of Defendant’s vehicle was lawfully carried out pursuant to a valid search warrant. View "State v. Estes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions of two counts of assault with a weapon and one count of aggravated assault. On appeal, Defendant primarily challenged the effectiveness of his counsel regarding the jury instructions. The Supreme Court held (1) defense counsel did not provide ineffective assistance by failing to request a bystander justifiable use of force jury instruction; and (2) the district court did not impose illegal parole conditions by employing the language “for any period of community supervision” because that language was qualified by the statement that followed applying “conditions of probation.” View "State v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part Defendant’s sentence for his conviction of felony possession of dangerous drugs but remanded to the district court with instructions to strike twenty-three recommended conditions for community supervision. The district court sentenced Defendant to ten years in prison and included a number of conditions in the written judgment. The Supreme Court held (1) the prosecutor’s remarks at sentencing were improper, but they did not constitute reversible error because they did not prejudice Defendant; (2) Defendant failed to demonstrate that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at the sentencing hearing; (3) the district court did not impose an unlawful sentence; and (4) the twenty-three recommended conditions listed in the written judgment were not included in the oral pronouncement of sentence and therefore must be stricken. View "State v. Lehrkamp" on Justia Law

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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