Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to his two children, holding that Father's due process rights were infringed by ineffective assistance of counsel, and because of counsel's ineffective assistance, Father was prejudiced and his parental rights were terminated. In arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel as it related to placement of the children and his stipulation to a treatment plan, Father pointed out that he was the non-offending, non-custodial parent and that there were no allegations of abuse or neglect ever brought in this case against him. Father asserted that but forms counsel's failure to correct legal misunderstandings, failure to object to an unnecessary treatment plan, and failure to request a placement hearing, his parental rights would not have been terminated. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division did not prove the existence of good cause to deny immediate placement with Father; and (2) Father's fundamental rights were prejudiced by ineffective assistance of counsel. View "In re B.H." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of assault with a weapon and aggravated assault, holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Court held that the district court (1) did not violate Defendant's constitutional right to self-representation by refusing his request to represent himself at an omnibus hearing but otherwise allowing Defendant to represent himself for the duration of his case; and (2) correctly applied the law and did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant a new trial after the court considered the victim's post-trial recantations and the evidence of Defendant's guilt produced at trial. View "State v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of burglary, theft, and violating an order of protection, holding that Defendant waived his right to be present at all critical stages of his criminal proceedings and that the district court did not err in concluding that Defendant did not unequivocally assert his right to represent himself. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court denied his constitutional right to be present at a critical stage of his criminal proceedings when it held a hearing in his absence and without defense counsel and denied him the right to represent himself when he unequivocally waived his right to counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant voluntarily waived his right to be present at the hearing; and (2) substantial evidence existed to support the district court's determination that Defendant did not intend to represent himself, and therefore, the district court did not violate Defendant's constitutional right to do so. View "State v. Marquart" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying the motion for summary judgment filed by Montana Independent Living Project (MILP) and granting the Montana Department of Transportation's (MDOT) motion for summary judgment in this case concerning the disbursement of Transportation Assistance for the Elderly and Disabled (TransADE) funds, holding that the district court properly granted summary judgment to MDOT. The TransADE program provides operating assistance for bus transportation to state agencies serving elderly and disabled persons. MDOT was authorized to administer the TransADE program and award special revenue grants using guidelines established in the State Management Plan (Plan). MILP, a nonprofit organization that provides transportation services for the elderly and disabled, submitted a proposal to offer weekend transportation services for elderly and disabled citizens in the Helena area. MDOT, however, awarded the general 2018 TransADE grant to the City of Helena. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Mont. Code Ann. 7-14-112 constitutionally delegates legislative authority to MDOT by authorizing the funds consistent with the Plan; (2) the Plan's policies and procedures are not subject to rulemaking procedures; (3) in adopting the Plan, MDOT met its constitutional requirements; and (4) the Legislature's authorization of disbursement of TransADE funds does not violate Mont. Const. art. VII, 12. View "Independent Living v. State, Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court ordering restitution after convicting Defendant of embezzling money from her employer, holding that the district court did not violate Defendant's due process rights when it did not hold an evidentiary hearing before ordering her to pay restitution. The State charged Defendant with theft of property by embezzlement, alleging that Defendant stole more than $7,000 from her employer. The jury found Defendant guilty. The State sought restitution for the amount Defendant stole and for expenses her employer incurred investigating and assisting in the prosecution. The district court entered an order requiring Defendant to pay restitution. Defendant appealed, arguing that the court abused her due process rights by failing to hold an evidentiary hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant failed to preserve a due process challenge to the lack of an evidentiary hearing. View "State v. Johns" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Defendant's petition for postconviction relief, holding that Defendant did not meet his burden of establishing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant was found guilty of one count of sexual intercourse without consent and other sexual offenses. The Supreme Court affirmed. Defendant then filed a petition for postconviction relief, arguing that his counsel had rendered ineffective assistance. The district court determined that Appellant had received effective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not carry his burden of establishing that the district court's findings were clearly erroneous and that his counsel's performance was unreasonable or deficient. View "Cheetham v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court determining that a regulation of the Great Falls/Cascade County City-County Board of Health (Board) was invalid, holding that the Board was entitled to summary judgment. The Board claimed that Totem Beverages, Inc. violated the regulation at issue, which was intended to provide clarity regarding smoking shelters. Totem brought this action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. The district court granted Totem's motion for summary judgment and denied the Board's, concluding that the regulation conflicted with the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act (MCIAA) and Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) rules, in violation of Mont. Code Ann. 50-2-116(2)(c)(vi). Both parties appealed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings, holding (1) the regulation did not conflict with the MCIAA or DPHHS rules; and (2) the district court erred by dismissing Totem's selective enforcement claim. View "Totem Beverages, Inc. v. Great Falls-Cascade County City-County Board of Health" on Justia Law

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On appeal from a guilty plea to possessing 144 pounds of marijuana the Supreme Court remanded this case to the district court for recalculation of Defendant's fine, holding that Mont. Code Ann. 45-9-130(1) is facially unconstitutional to the extent it does not allow the sentencing judge to consider whether the thirty-five percent market value fine is grossly disproportional to the gravity of the offense. Section 45-9-130(1) requires a district court to impose a mandatory thirty-five percent market value fine in drug possession convictions. Pursuant to section 45-9-130(1), the district fined Defendant $75,600, which was thirty-five percent of the market value of the marijuana she was convicted of possessing. On appeal, Defendant argued that the mandatory thirty-five percent market value fine imposed in every drug possession conviction violated her constitutional right against excessive fines because the statute does require consideration of the offender's financial resources, the nature of the crime committed, and the nature of the burden the required fine would have on the offender. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that section 45-9-130(1) is facially unconstitutional and that a sentencing judge may not impose the thirty-five percent market value fine without considering the factors in Mont. Code Ann. 46-18-231(3). View "State v. Yang" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court affirming the judgment of the municipal court denying Defendant's motions to suppress evidence, holding that the municipal court erred when it determined that a particularized suspicion to conduct a DUI investigation existed at the completion of a community caretaker stop. Specifically, the Court held that the municipal court's determination that the police officer obtained a particularized suspicion to conduct a DUI investigation during the scope of his community caretaker stop of Defendant was clearly erroneous because the objective factors present at the completion of the community caretaker stop, in the absence of the additional indicators observed later, did not support an inference that Defendant had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime. Therefore, the Court reversed the municipal court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress, vacated Defendant's conviction for misdemeanor DUI, and remanded the matter with instructions to dismiss the case with prejudice. View "State v. Metz" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court entering summary judgment in favor of the City of Missoula declaring that a city ordinance was not prohibited under Montana law, holding that the district court erred by concluding that the City may require background checks on firearm transfers without violating the statutory prohibition upon local government regulation of the "purchase, sale or other transfer" of firearms. In 2016, the City of Missoula, a self-governing municipality, adopted Ordinance 3581, which imposed a requirement upon persons purchasing or otherwise receiving a firearm in the City to pass a national instant background check. The Attorney General issued an opinion concluding that cities with self-government powers were prohibited by Montana law from enforcing a local regulation or ordinance requiring background checks of firearm sales or transfers. The City filed this action challenging the Attorney General's opinion and seeking a declaration that the ordinance was lawful. The district court concluded that the ordinance was authorized under the statutory exception in Mont. Code Ann. 45-8-351(2) and entered summary judgment for the City. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the express statutory prohibition upon cities in section 45-8-351(1) is a limitation on the City's self-governing powers. View "City of Missoula v. Fox" on Justia Law