Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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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

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The Supreme Court upheld a district judge's order temporarily permitting qualified advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to perform outpatient early-term abortions while the APRNs challenge the constitutionality of a state law that restrictions abortion practice to physicians and physicians' assistants, holding that preliminary injunctive relief was appropriately granted. In 2005, the Montana Legislature amended Mont. Code Ann. 50-20-109(1)(a) to restrict the performance of pre-viability abortions to licensed physicians and physician assistants-certified. In 2018, Plaintiffs, a certified nurse practitioner and a certified nurse midwife, filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment that the statute violates Montana citizens' constitutional right of privacy, equal protection and dignity. Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction, and the district court granted that relief. The State appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence at this stage of the proceedings to establish a likelihood of irreparable injury during the pendency of the lawsuit to patients who would qualify for the lawful medical procedure. View "Weems v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of one count of deliberate homicide and two counts of attempted deliberate homicide, holding that Defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel claim was not appropriately considered on direct appeal. On appeal, Defendant argued that his counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to object to irrelevant, highly prejudicial evidence concerning his criminal past in two video interviews admitted at trial. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment without prejudice to Defendant raising his ineffective assistance of counsel claim in a postconviction relief proceeding, holding that the record was not sufficient to address Defendant's claim on direct appeal. View "State v. Sawyer" on Justia Law

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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