Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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In this original proceeding, the Supreme Court granted the petition for writ and assumed original jurisdiction over Petitioners' constitutional challenge and then held that Senate Bill 140 (SB 140 does not violate Mont. Const. art. VII, 8(2).SB 140 was passed by the 2021 Montana Legislature and signed into law by the Governor. The bill abolished Montana's Judicial Nomination Commission and the previous process to screen applicants for vacancies on the Supreme Court and the District Courts. Petitioners brought this proceeding challenging the constitutionality of SB 140. The Supreme Court held (1) Petitioners had standing to challenge the constitutionality of SB 140; (2) urgent or emergency factors justified an original proceeding in this Court; and (3) SB 140 does not violate Article VII, Section 8(2). View "Brown v. Gianforte" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of the sexual abuse of a nine-year-old girl and upheld the constitutionality of his sentence requiring lifetime GPS monitoring, holding that there was no reversible error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court erred to the extent it admitted the victim's taped forensic interview as a prior consistent statement, but there was not a reasonable possibility that the forensic interview contributed to Defendant's conviction; (2) Defendant did not sustain his burden to demonstrate that the prosecutor's closing arguments justified reversal of his conviction for plain error; and (3) the requirement for GPS monitoring imposed by Mont. Code Ann. 45-5-625(4)(b) is not facially unconstitutional under either the Montana or the United States Constitutions. View "State v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed an order issued by the district court denying a motion for substitution of judge that was made after the Supreme Court reversed the summary judgment order of the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that the district court erred in denying the motion for substitution for judge.This matter arose from condemnation proceedings concerning the water supply system serving the Missoula urban area. Mountain Water Company and Carlyle Infrastructure Partners, LP (collectively, Owners) filed a notice of constitutional question and motion for partial summary judgment, contending that Mont. Code Ann. 70-30-306(2) and (3) were unconstitutional. The district court determined that section 70-30-306 was constitutional facially and as-applied. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for limited discovery. On remand, Owners filed a motion for substitution of district judge. The district court denied the motion as untimely. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Owners were denied their right of substitution upon this Court's reversal of the district court's summary judgment order. View "Missoula v. Mountain Water Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed Defendant's conviction, entered after a second trial, for sexual intercourse without consent and bail jumping, holding that the district court abused its discretion in declaring and mistrial and erred in concluding that double jeopardy did not bar Defendant's retrial.Defendant was originally charged with incest and a jury was impaneled. Nearing the conclusion of the State's case the court reporter had either a heart attack or a stroke and was taken to the hospital. The court declared a mistrial, and a retrial was scheduled. Before the second trial, the State amended its charge to correct a deficiency in the original charging documents. Defendant was subsequently convicted. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Defendant's subsequent prosecution for sexual intercourse without consent and bail jumping for the same incident as his first prosecution was barred by the United States and Montana Constitutions protections against double jeopardy; and (2) the district court abused its discretion in declaring a mistrial. View "State v. Newrobe" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of felony theft by possession of stolen property and four misdemeanor, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on any of his claims of error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court acted within its discretion in denying Defendant's motions for mistrial after two separate references to Defendant's "jail" status were made by State witnesses; (2) the district court did not err in declining to give a jury instruction on unauthorized use of a motor vehicle as a lesser-included offense of the charged theft by possession of stolen property; and (3) Defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel claims would more appropriately be addressed through a petition for postconviction relief. View "State v. Denny" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for three felony counts of privacy in communications, in violation of Mont. Code Ann. 45-8-213(1)(a), holding that there were no prejudicial errors in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the Privacy in Communications statute, Mont. Code Ann. 45-8-213(1)(a), is not facially overbroad, nor does it constitute a content-based restriction on speech in violation of the "freedom of speech" clauses of the Montana and United States Constitutions; (2) the district court correctly interpreted the Privacy in Communications statute; (3) there was insufficient evidence to conclude that there was jurisdiction when the threatening communication was made to a person located outside of Montana; and (4) the district court fully and fairly instructed the jury in accordance with the charges and evidence presented. View "State v. Lamoureux" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court concluding that Erik Miller was justified when he used deadly force against Nicholas Tyson Frazier, holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion.Frazier, who was suicidal, was shot by Miller, a police officer, in his home after he pointed his gun at the Miller. The Estate brought this complaint against Miller alleging assault, wrongful death, negligence, and a violation of Frazier's rights under the Montana Constitution. The district court entered judgment in favor of Miller, holding that Miller's use of force was justified. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err by refusing to submit a separate constitutional tort theory to the jury; (2) the special verdict form clearly and fairly presented the jury with the ultimate questions of fact; and (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to record all sidebar discussions of evidentiary objections. View "Estate of Frazier v. Miller" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for sexual intercourse without consent (SIWOC) and his sentence of seventy-five years' imprisonment, with twenty-five years suspended, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on any of his claims of error.On appeal, Defendant argued (1) the district court erred by allowing the presentation of combined expert and lay testimony without providing a cautionary instruction or notice to counsel, (2) the court violated his due process rights by failing to exclude the prosecutor from a hearing regarding defense counsel's representation; and (3) his counsel provided ineffective assistance. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) plain error review was not warranted for either issue one or issue two; and (2) Defendant failed to establish his ineffective assistance of counsel claims on direct appeal. View "State v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of incest, holding that the district court did not err by precluding Defendant from introducing extrinsic evidence to challenge the victim's credibility.On appeal, Defendant argued that his defense was prejudiced because he was prohibited from demonstrating the victim's bias or motive to testify falsely and that the court's evidentiary ruling violated his right to confrontation under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Mont. Const. art. II, 24. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not misapply the rules or abuse its discretion in its ruling on the admissibility of evidence; and (2) the district court properly exercised its discretion by imposing reasonable limits on Defendant's evidentiary inquiries. View "State v. Quinlan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part Defendant's convictions for deliberate homicide and tampering with physical evidence, holding that Defendant's constitutional right of confrontation was violated, requiring reversal of his conviction of tampering with physical evidence.On appeal, Defendant argued that he was denied his right under the United States and Montana Constitutions to confront witnesses against him when the State presented a foundational witness in real time by two-way videoconference. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) furtherance of an important public policy to allow the witness to testify via two-way videoconferencing was not demonstrated in this case, and therefore, the first prong of the analysis set forth in Maryland v. Craig, 497 U.S. 836 (1990), was not satisfied; and (2) Defendant's right to a fair trial was not undermined by the prosecutor's closing argument. View "State v. Mercier" on Justia Law