Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction for deliberate homicide, holding that the prosecutor did not commit misconduct during closing argument that prejudiced Defendant’s right to a fair trial and warranted plain error review. A jury convicted Defendant of deliberate homicide. On appeal, Defendant argued that the prosecutor committed misconduct during closing argument. Because Defendant did not object to the statements, he sought plain error review. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not demonstrate that failure to review the asserted errors would result in a miscarriage of justice, raise a question about the fundamental fairness of the proceedings, or compromise the integrity of the judicial process. View "State v. Lau" on Justia Law

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The justice court did not err in concluding that Defendant waived his right to a jury trial when he failed to appear at his jury confirmation hearing. Defendant was found guilty by the justice court of driving while under the influence of alcohol and obstructing a peace officer. On appeal, Defendant argued that the justice court erred in determining that Defendant waived his right to a jury trial when he failed to appear at the jury confirmation hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, under the circumstances, the justice court did not err in determining that Defendant waived his right to a jury trial by failing to attend his jury confirmation hearing. View "State v. Sherlock" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s sentence for three separate cases involving partner or family member assault against three different women to a combined twenty years, with eight suspended. The district court included conditions in all three cases that restricted contact between Defendant and his victims. On appeal, Defendant argued that the condition prohibiting contact between him and his second victim was an unreasonable sentencing condition and an unconstitutional restriction on his common-law marriage. The Supreme Court held (1) the contested condition was not an unreasonable sentencing condition; and (2) Defendant’s general objection to the restricted contact conditions was insufficient to preserve his argument that the conditions unconstitutionally infringe upon his marriage, privacy, and due process rights. View "State v. Parkhill" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment to the Wolf Point School District Board of Trustees (Board) on Plaintiff’s claim that the Board unlawfully terminated her employment in violation of the open meeting law, Mont. Code Ann. 2-3-203, and Mont. Const. art. II, 9. Plaintiff appeared before the Board for a hearing regarding the termination of her employment. The Board closed the meeting to the public and then re-opened the meeting to the public, at which time a trustee made a motion, seconded by another, for the Board to terminate Plaintiff’s employment. The meeting was then closed again to everyone except the Board and the superintendent to allow the Board to discuss unspecified litigation strategy at an “executive session” with the Board’s lawyer. When Plaintiff was allowed back into the room the Board voted to terminate Plaintiff’s contract. The Supreme Court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Board, holding that the district court (1) erred in granting summary judgment that the Board lawfully closed the hearing portion of the meeting based on third-party privacy rights; and (2) erred in granting summary judgment that the Board lawfully excluded Plaintiff from its “executive session” under the litigation strategy exception of section 2-3-203(4). View "Raap v. Board of Trustees, Wolf Point School District" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment to the Wolf Point School District Board of Trustees (Board) on Plaintiff’s claim that the Board unlawfully terminated her employment in violation of the open meeting law, Mont. Code Ann. 2-3-203, and Mont. Const. art. II, 9. Plaintiff appeared before the Board for a hearing regarding the termination of her employment. The Board closed the meeting to the public and then re-opened the meeting to the public, at which time a trustee made a motion, seconded by another, for the Board to terminate Plaintiff’s employment. The meeting was then closed again to everyone except the Board and the superintendent to allow the Board to discuss unspecified litigation strategy at an “executive session” with the Board’s lawyer. When Plaintiff was allowed back into the room the Board voted to terminate Plaintiff’s contract. The Supreme Court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Board, holding that the district court (1) erred in granting summary judgment that the Board lawfully closed the hearing portion of the meeting based on third-party privacy rights; and (2) erred in granting summary judgment that the Board lawfully excluded Plaintiff from its “executive session” under the litigation strategy exception of section 2-3-203(4). View "Raap v. Board of Trustees, Wolf Point School District" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of aggravated assault and reversed his conviction for violating a no-contact order. The Court held (1) the State did not present sufficient evidence for the jury to find Defendant guilty of violating a no-contact order; and (2) the prosecutor’s comment during rebuttal closing argument that the jury’s “job” was to ensure the alleged victim’s safety was improper, and the nature of the remark implicated Defendant’s right to a fair trial, but this isolated incident of alleged misconduct did not result in a miscarriage of justice or compromise the integrity of Defendant’s trial. View "State v. Ritesman" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of aggravated assault and reversed his conviction for violating a no-contact order. The Court held (1) the State did not present sufficient evidence for the jury to find Defendant guilty of violating a no-contact order; and (2) the prosecutor’s comment during rebuttal closing argument that the jury’s “job” was to ensure the alleged victim’s safety was improper, and the nature of the remark implicated Defendant’s right to a fair trial, but this isolated incident of alleged misconduct did not result in a miscarriage of justice or compromise the integrity of Defendant’s trial. View "State v. Ritesman" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the City of Billings (City) and the Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority (MMIA) (collectively, Defendants) in this “Petition for Release of Documents” seeking documents related to a civil judgment MMIA paid on behalf of the City. Defendants released to Plaintiff all non-privileged documents and provided privilege logs describing those documents withheld on the ground of attorney-client or attorney-work-product privilege. In his petition, Plaintiff asked for the release of “everything related to” the civil judgment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants and dismissed the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the privileged documents were not subject to disclosure under the Montana Constitution. View "Nelson v. City of Billings" on Justia Law

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Shayna Hubbard appealed a district court judgment convicting her of driving with a suspended license and for failing to show proof of liability insurance. Hubbard went to a Montana casino to gamble. She was 19 and could legally gamble, but only patrons who were 21 years old and older were eligible to receive a gambling coupon. She provided another person’s identification to a casino employee to get the coupon. An employee who recognized Hubbard and knew she was using another person’s identification called the police. Police learned that Hubbard’s Oregon driver’s license was suspended, and informed Hubbard that it was illegal to use another person’s identification. Police decided not to cite her for the offense, and left the casino. The same responding officer at the casino observed Hubbard a short while later driving on the suspended license, and pulled her over. Hubbard was arrested for driving with a suspended license (and failing to provide proof of insurance). Hubbard appeared in Libby City Court, pled not guilty to the charges, and asked for appointment of a public defender. Counsel was appointed, and Hubbard was tried in absentia. Counsel thereafter filed a Notice of Appeal; a jury trial in district court was scheduled for later that year. Counsel and Hubbard conversed by email, wherein Hubbard explained her belief that the arresting officer entrapped her by allegedly telling her to drive from the casino, with knowledge her license was suspended, because her companion had been drinking. Counsel ultimately moved to withdraw from Hubbard’s representation, arguing that a new trial in District Court “would be frivolous or wholly without merit.” Counsel filed a supporting memorandum and attached several documents, including the email Hubbard had sent to him explaining why she believed she was entrapped. The District Court denied Counsel’s motion to withdraw. Hubbard argued on appeal that Counsel violated his duties of loyalty and confidentiality to her by attaching the email explaining her view on trial strategy, violating attorney-client privilege, and revealing inculpatory information that was not previously in the city court record, which the prosecution used to file a motion in limine to prevent the entrapment defense. She also argued the improperly disclosed information prejudiced her during trial, because it gave the prosecution the idea to inquire into where she lived and how she arrived in Libby, prior to the incident at the casino. The District Court denied the motion and, further, gave an instruction regarding the entrapment defense to the jury. Hubbard presented an entrapment defense and the jury considered whether entrapment applied. The Montana Supreme Court concluded Counsel’s disclosure did not render the trial result “fundamentally unfair” or “unreliable,” and that Hubbard could not show that there was a reasonable probability that, but for her counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. View "City of Libby v. Hubbard" on Justia Law

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Justin Dodge appealed a district court judgment and sentence imposing $14,438.44 in restitution following his guilty plea for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI). "The requirement of section 46-18-242, MCA, that a victim submit evidence specifically describing his or her pecuniary loss under oath in an affidavit or by testifying at sentencing is designed to ensure that restitution awards comply with basic principles of due process; that is, that an award is reliable." The Montana Supreme Court determined that the Department of Transportation’s failure to describe its loss under oath did not comply with the procedures and qualifications of 46-18-242, MCA, thus drawing into question the reliability of the award and Dodge’s substantial right to pay an accurate amount in restitution. The Court reversed the district court and remanded this case for resentencing for the limited purpose of reconsidering the restitution order. View "Montana v. Dodge" on Justia Law