Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence for attempted deliberate homicide, aggravated burglary, and tampering with or fabricating evidence, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant did not meet his burden to convince the Court that it was necessary to review the district court's note on the verdict form regarding alternative lesser included offenses under the plain error doctrine; (2) there was sufficient evidence to convict Defendant of tampering with or fabricating evidence; and (3) Defendant was not denied effective assistance of counsel. View "State v. Daniels" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Vision Net, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment and granting summary judgment to the Montana Department of Revenue (DOR), holding that the district court did not err by holding that the DOR properly centrally assessed Vision Net's property. Vision Net filed a petition for declaratory judgment challenging the DOR's decision to reclassify its property. The district court held that the DOR could properly centrally assess Vision Net's property, resulting in a significant increase in Vision Net's state tax liability. On appeal, Vision Net argued that DOR's central assessment violated its statutory rights and its constitutional rights of equal protection and equalization under Mont. Const. art. II, 4 and art. VII, 3. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly held that Vision Net was subject to central assessment and that Vision Net's constitutional challenge was without merit. View "Vision Net, Inc. v. State, Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of deliberate homicide for the death of his wife, Kathryn, fifteen years earlier, holding that the district court abused its discretion in admitting a deceased forensic pathologist's opinion statements through an FBI agent who was present at the autopsy on Kathryn's body, holding that Defendant's constitutional right to confront witnesses against him was violated. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant was not unconstitutionally prejudiced by the fifteen-year delay between Kathryn's death and the charge; (2) the State presented sufficient evidence in his case-in-chief to overcome Defendant's motion to dismiss the case for insufficient evidence; but (3) the district court abused its discretion in admitting the deceased pathologist's statements that bruises on Kathryn's neck were "troubling" because the State used the statements as an out-of-court substitute for the trial testimony of the deceased pathologist and Defendant had no opportunity to cross-examine or confront the accusation. The Court remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings. View "State v. Laird" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of negligent homicide, holding that Defendant's trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to serve a subpoena upon or otherwise preserve the testimony of a crucial defense witness for trial. Defendant was convicted of negligent homicide and two counts of felony criminal endangerment. The district court sentenced Defendant to a term of imprisonment and imposed restitution to be paid to Justin Gallup and Tiffany Rowell. Defendant appealed the negligent homicide conviction and also asserted that the district court erred by failing to deduct the $50,000 paid by his insurance - $25,000 to both Gallup and Rowell - from each's restitution award. The Supreme Court reversed the negligent homicide conviction, holding (1) trial counsel was ineffective because there was no justifiable reason not to subpoena the crucial witness sufficiently in advance of trial to assure his attendance; and (2) the district court erred in failing to deduct funds paid by Defendant's insurance to Gallup and Powell from their restitution awards. View "State v. Santoro" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's parental rights, holding that Father's due process rights were infringed by ineffective assistance of counsel resulting in his parental rights being inappropriately terminated. On appeal, Father argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when his court-appointed counsel failed assiduously to advocate for him throughout her representation. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that Father's initial appointed counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel, and because of that ineffective assistance, Father was prejudiced, and his parental rights were terminated. The Court remanded this case for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division to conduct initial preliminary assessment of Father as the first placement option for the child consistent with its policies and this opinion. View "In re E.Y.R." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of sexual intercourse without consent, burglary, and sexual assault, holding that the district court abused its discretion by denying Defendant's motion to strike juror M.J. for cause. After the jurors were selected in this case, the bailiff informed the court that a juror, M.J., had stated to the bailiff that "he is pretty sure the Defendant is guilty" based upon the juror's assessment of the statements used by defense counsel during voir dire. The court denied defense counsel's subsequent motion to strike M.J. for cause, and the trial resumed with M.J. being empaneled and sworn. After Defendant was convicted he appealed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, based on a totality of circumstances, there was a troubling pattern that should have resulted in M.J.'s removal, and the district court abused its discretion in denying Defendant's motion to dismiss M.J. for cause. View "State v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court denying Appellant's motion to dismiss based on a finding that law enforcement had the requisite particularized suspicion to initiate a traffic stop, holding that the traffic stop was not justified under Mont. Code Ann. 46-5-401. The justice court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss, concluding that the police officer who initiated the traffic stop lacked particularized suspicion. The district court disagreed and Defendant's motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the officer did not have objective data available to him to support a particularized suspicion that Defendant was committing, had committed, or was about to commit an offense, and therefore, the traffic stop was not justified pursuant to section 46-5-401. View "State v. Reeves" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court convicting Defendant of evidence tampering and deliberate homicide, holding that investigating officers had a reasonable suspicion of exigent circumstances justifying a no-knock entry into Defendant's residence and that the forensic search of Defendant's computer was not constitutionally infirm. At issue on appeal were weather the district court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant that did not explicitly authorize a no-knock entry and whether the court properly denied Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained through a forensic search of his computer. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) State v. Anyan, 104 P.3d 511 (Mont. 2004), is overturned insofar as it requires investigating officers to obtain authorization from a judge to execute a no-knock entry, and officers may execute a no-knock entry where they have a reasonable suspicion of exigent circumstances justifying it; (2) officers may seize an electronic device pursuant to a warrant where the type of evidence the officers are looking for could reasonably be found on the device, and where officers are lawfully in possession of property, they may subsequently search the property pursuant to a search warrant; and (3) the jury instructions in this case were proper. View "State v. Neiss" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the district court's order denying Defendant's motion to dismiss for violation of his right to a speedy trial, holding that the 422-delay in resolving Defendant's felony driving under the influence (DUI) charge violated Defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial. Defendant pleaded guilty to felony DUI 422 days after he was arrested and charged, a delay stretching far beyond the 200-day threshold. After examining the speedy trial violation under the four-factor test set forth in State v. Ariegwe, 167 P.3d 815 (Mont. 2007), the Supreme Court reversed, holding that the State violated Defendant's right to a speedy trial. The Court remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the charge. View "State v. Kurtz" on Justia Law

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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