Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court terminating Mother's parental rights to Child and remanded for the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division (Department) to engage in reasonable efforts to reunify Mother with Child, holding that the Department failed to provide reasonable efforts to reunify Mother and Child. On appeal, Mother argued that the Department violated her fundamental constitutional right to parent and abused its discretion by failing to provide her with the required reasonable efforts to reunify her with Child. The Supreme Court agreed and remanded the case, holding (1) the Department failed to provide reasonable efforts to reunite Mother and Child; and (2) the district court erred in its determination that the Department established by clear and convincing evidence that the condition rendering Mother unfit to safely parent was not likely to change within a reasonable time. View "In re R.J.F." on Justia Law

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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 affirmed the order of the district court denying Plaintiff's motion to suppress evidence that was obtained when a highway patrol trooper, after noticing Plaintiff's vehicle parked on the side of the road, stopped to see if Plaintiff needed assistance, holding that the district court did not err when it denied Plaintiff's motion to suppress. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the test set forth in State v. Lovegren, 51 P.3d 471 (Mont. 2002), to ensure that application of the community caretaker doctrine comports with constitutional protections was not met in this case. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the contact began as a welfare check, which met the first prong of the Lovegren test. The contact then shifted to a criminal investigation supported by particularized suspicion only after additional information became available to the trooper. View "State v. Grmoljez" 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 affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Anaconda-Deer Lodge County in this dispute over the status of a road, holding that the district court did not err in concluding that the County’s use of the upper branch of the road did not amount to a taking but that Letica Land Company, LLC was not constitutionally entitled to litigation expenses and that both Letica and the County were responsible for their individual trial costs. At issue was the status of Modesty Creek Road, located near the boundary between Anaconda-Deer Lodge County (the County) and Powell County. Letica filed a complaint and sought a preliminary injunction barring public use of the road until a judgment established the existence of a right-of-way over either or both the upper and lower branches. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the County and dismissed Letica’s takings claims. The Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err in granting summary judgment in the County’s favor; (2) because a taking did not occur, Letica was not constitutionally entitled to compensation or litigation expenses; and (3) the district court erred in holding Letica accountable for the County’s trial costs. View "Letica Land Co., LLC v. Anaconda-Deer Lodge County" 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