Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of offense of partner or family member assault, holding that the district court abused its discretion in denying Defendant’s motion to excuse a prospective juror for cause. In this case, a prospective juror spontaneously asserted that she would have a “hard time,” a personal “problem,” and a “real problem” with requiring the State to prove an essential element of the charged offense. The Supreme Court held that where the prospective juror’s multiple spontaneous statements were consistent, clear, unequivocal, and emphatic and where the record unequivocally manifested the juror’s bias, the district court abused its discretion in denying Defendant’s motion to disqualify the prospective juror for cause. Further, the error was structural, requiring automatic reversal. View "State v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court upholding the denial of Defendant’s motion to dismiss her driving under the influence (DUI) charge, holding that Montana’s statutory protections against double jeopardy did not bar Defendant’s charge. In 2016, Defendant pleaded guilty to careless driving. After reviewing Defendant’s toxicology report, the Helena Attorney’s Office additionally charged Defendant with DUI. Defendant moved to dismiss her DUI charge as a subsequent prosecution barred by Mont. Code Ann. 46-11-504(1). The municipal court denied the motion to dismiss. The district court upheld the denial of Defendant’s motion to dismiss. Thereafter, Defendant pleaded guilty to negligent endangerment pursuant to a plea agreement, preserving her right to appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Mont. Code Ann. 46-11-503 applied in this case; but (2) because no probable cause existed to charge Defendant with DUI before resolution of her careless driving charge, section 46-11-503 did not bar the subsequent DUI charge from prosecution. View "City of Helena v. O'Connell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court affirming the Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s Human Rights Bureau’s (HRB) decision concluding that Ronis Bollinger was properly terminated from her employment with the Billings Clinic, holding that the district court did not err in upholding Bollinger’s termination from employment because she failed to demonstrate that the Clinic retaliated against her for engaging in protected activity. Bollinger filed this complaint asserting that her history of discipline and investigative interactions with the Clinic demonstrated a retaliatory motive that caused or contributed to the Clinic’s decision to terminate her employment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in upholding the hearing officer’s conclusion that Bollinger was properly terminated by the Clinic for her dishonesty; (2) did not err in upholding the HRB's denial of Bollinger’s motion to compel Clinic production of certain emails; and (3) did not abuse its discretion in awarding costs to the Clinic. View "Bollinger v. Billings Clinic" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court denying Appellant’s motion to suppress, holding that the denial of Appellant’s motion to suppress was not erroneous. Defendant was charged with criminal possession of dangerous drugs. Defendant filed a motion to suppress his statements on the basis that he was detained without reasonable suspicion and arrested without probable cause. The district court denied the motion to suppress. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in its determination that the officers’ initial investigation was supported by particularized suspicion; (2) the immediate use of handcuffs did not elevate the investigatory stop into an arrest; and (3) the district court did not err in its determination that the arrest was supported by probable cause. View "State v. Stevens" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order and decree of adoption issued by the district court terminating Father’s parental rights and ordering the adoption of his minor daughter, L.F.R., by her stepfather, K.J.D., holding that the district court’s failure to notify Father of his right to counsel violated his constitutional rights. During a hearing on the petition for termination of Father’s parental rights, Father appeared but was not represented by counsel. On appeal, Father argued that the district court’s failure to notify him of his right to counsel during the proceeding violated his constitutional rights. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed, holding that Father did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to counsel. The Court remanded the cause for a new hearing. View "In re Adoption of L.F.R." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of a speedy trial and admitting Defendant’s blood alcohol concentration into evidence, holding that the district court did not err. Defendant was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). Defendant appealed, arguing that the district court erred when it denied his motion to dismiss because his speedy trial rights had been violated and that the circumstances of his blood draw for the DUI investigation violated Montana law. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant was not deprived of his right to a speedy trial; and (2) the blood draw comported with Montana law. View "State v. Heath" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court sentencing Defendant to five years in the Montana State Prison, holding that Defendant’s attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel and that Defendant was prejudiced as a result. Defendant pleaded guilty to criminal possession of dangerous drugs, criminal possession of drug paraphernalia, and obstructing a peace officer. The district court sentenced Defendant to five years in the Montana State Prison for criminal possession of dangerous drugs. On appeal, Defendant argued that his defense counsel’s failure to cite Mont. Code Ann. 45-9-202 and its application in State v. Brendal, 213 P.3d 448 (Mont. 2009), amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel that prejudiced the result of his sentencing hearing. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed, holding that Defendant’s attorney provided ineffective assistance by filing to cite section 45-9-202 and Brendal, resulting in prejudice to Defendant. The Court remanded the cause for resentencing. View "State v. Walter" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of speeding, holding that the State’s comment to the jury that Defendant had already been convicted of the charge in the justice court required reversal. After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of speeding, in violation of Mont. Code Ann. 61-8-303(1)(b). On appeal, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err when it did not dismiss the case for lack of particularized suspicion and for lack of corroborating evidence; (2) Defendant was entitled to a new trial because the State’s comment that Defendant was previously convicted of speeding presented prejudicial facts not before the jury’s consideration and implicated the fundamental fairness of the proceedings; and (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it did not allow Defendant to argue his theory of law to the jury that multiple witnesses are required for a conviction. View "State v. French" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court revoking a deferred sentence for failure to pay restitution, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Court held (1) substantial evidence supported the district court’s finding that Defendant did not make good faith efforts to pay his restitution and supervision fees; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in revoking Defendant’s deferred sentence and imposing a new sentence; (3) revocation did not violate the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment because Defendant did not make good faith effort to pay his restitution; and (4) Defendant’s obligation to pay restitution was not a fine within the purview of the Excessive Fines Clause of Mont. Const. art. II, 22 because it was remedial in nature. View "State v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court denying Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence gathered from a vehicle after a traffic stop, holding that sufficient evidence did not exist for an extended stop. Defendant was charged with drug-related offenses. Defendant filed motion to suppress evidence obtained after a traffic stop. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the police officer had sufficient facts to expand the traffic stop into a drug investigation and particularized suspicion to justify a canine search of the vehicle’s exterior. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the officer lacked the particularized suspicion required to extend the traffic stop into a drug investigation, and the stop violated Mont. Code Ann. 46-5-403; and (2) the extension of the stop to request a search by a K-9 unit violated the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches. View "State v. Wilson" on Justia Law