Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court denied Petitioner’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that Petitioner’s sentence of 110 years’ imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, for deliberate homicide with the use of a weapon did not violate his Eighth Amendment rights even where Petitioner committed the offense when he was seventeen years old. At issue was whether Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, __ U.S. __ (2016), apply to Montana’s discretionary sentencing scheme and whether Petitioner’s sentence qualifies as a de facto life sentence to which Miller and Montgomery apply. The Supreme Court held (1) Miller and Montgomery apply to discretionary sentences in Montana; and (2) Petitioner’s sentence, when viewed in light of Petitioner’s eligibility for day-for-day good time credit and the concurrent sentence he was serving in Washington, did not qualify as a de facto life sentence to which Miller’s substantive rule applied. View "Steilman v. Michael" on Justia Law

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The State filed an amended information charging Defendant of thirteen counts. Thereafter, federal prosecutors obtained an indictment against Defendant for four federal charges. The State then filed a second amended in information to remove from the first amended information transactions that were the subject of the federal indictment. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, which the district court denied. A jury subsequently found Defendant guilty of aggravated kidnapping and sexual intercourse without consent. Defendant then pled guilty to federal count two and the other federal charges were dismissed. Upon Defendant’s second trial on the remaining State charges, the jury found Defendant guilty of all counts except for burglary and an alternative theft charge. Defendant moved to dismiss the state felony charges on statutory multiple prosecution grounds. The district court denied the motion. Before Defendant was sentenced on the state charges, he filed this appeal. The Supreme Court held (1) a defendant can appeal the denial of a motion for dismissal under Mont. Code Ann. 46-11-504(1) prior to the entry of a final judgment; and; (2) the district court did not err by denying Defendant’s motion under section 46-11-504(1) to dismiss the charges of deceptive practices, burglary, and felony theft, given his federal conviction for possession of stolen firearms. View "State v. Burton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the district court did not err in dismissing Defendant’s motion to dismiss the State’s petition to revoke her suspended sentence on the ground that there had been a four-year delay in executing the arrest warrant. In 2009, the district court issued a “Montana only” warrant for the arrest of Defendant, who was on probation. Thereafter, Defendant was convicted of another offense in Colorado, where, several times, Defendant was paroled and then her sentence was revoked. Defendant discharged her Colorado sentences in 2013. That same year, Defendant was arrested on the 2009 warrant. Defendant moved to dismiss the petition to revoke her suspended sentence, arguing that the State violated her right to due process by failing to bring her to court without unnecessary delay. The district court concluded that Defendant had not suffered a deprivation of due process and then determined that Defendant had violated the terms of her original sentence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss the revocation petition. View "State v. Koon" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Water Compact, holding that Mont. Const. art. II, section 18 did not require the Montana Legislature to approve the Compact or its administrative provisions. The Compact, negotiated between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, provided a unified system for the administration of water rights and the resolution of disputes on the reservation. The Compact was approved by the Montana Legislature in 2015. The Flathead Board of Joint Control brought suit against the State seeking to invalidate the Compact. The district court ruled (1) the challenged section of the Compact did not contravene Article II, Section 18 because it did not enact any new immunities from suit; but (2) the challenged section of the administrative provision provided new immunity to the State and, therefore, was covered by Article II, Section 18, and because the provision did not pass by a two-thirds majority of each house, it is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) none of the Compact’s provisions grant any state governmental agency new immunities from a potential lawsuit; and (2) the Legislature’s majority vote to approve and adopt the contract was consistent with subject provisions of the Montana Constitution. View "Flathead Joint Board of Control v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s denial of Defendant’s two motions to dismiss the charges against him for sexual abuse of children. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of sexual abuse of children. Defendant reserved the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his two motions to dismiss. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court properly found that there was sufficient evidence that a rational jury could have found Defendant guilty of sexual abuse of children because he knowingly possessed child pornography; and (2) Montana’s statutory definition of possession under Mont. Code Ann. 45-2-101(59) is not unconstitutionally vague as applied to Defendant’s conduct. View "State v. Harrington" on Justia Law

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Constitutional Initiative 116 (CI-116), commonly known as Marsy’s Law, violates the separate-vote requirement contained in Mont. Const. art. XIV, section 11. In this original petition for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, Petitioners challenged the constitutionality of CI-116, which, as enacted, amended Mont. Const. art. II by adding a new section 36, titled Rights of Crime Victims. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the procedure by which CI-116 was submitted to voters conformed to Montana’s constitutional requirements. The court held (1) this case was properly before this court as an original proceeding; (2) the single-subject requirement set forth in Mont. Const. art. V, section 11(e) applies to bills of the legislature and not to constitutional amendments; and (3) CI-116 violates the separate-vote requirement, set forth in Mont. Const. art. XIV, section 11, and is therefore void in its entirety. View "Montana Ass’n of Counties v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the municipal court’s order denying Petitioner’s motion to dismiss the charge against him, holding that the municipal court abused its discretion in declaring a mistrial and in concluding that double jeopardy did not bar Petitioner’s retrial. Petitioner was charged with partner or family member assault (PFMA). The City of Billings moved for a mistrial, and the trial judge declared a mistrial based on the purportedly inconsistent testimony of a City’s witness. The judge then rescheduled Petitioner’s trial. Petitioner filed a motion to dismiss the PFMA on double jeopardy grounds. The municipal court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) there was no manifest necessity to discontinue the trial, and Petitioner’s conduct did not demonstrate a waiver of his right to object to termination of the proceedings and to a retrial; and (2) therefore, retrying Petitioner for the PFMA charge would violate his federal and state fundamental constitutional rights to be free from double jeopardy. View "Billings ex rel. Huertas v. Billing" on Justia Law

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The district court erred by concluding that particularized suspicion did not exist for the investigatory stop of Defendant. The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court reversing the municipal court’s order denying Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence related to his arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). The district court concluded that the trial court’s finding that Defendant was apprehended for a technical violation was clearly erroneous. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the district court erred in finding from the evidence that Defendant was stopped for “alleged behavior,” which required its own assessment and speculation about the record; and (2) there was substantial evidence in the record to support the municipal court’s findings of fact about the reasons that Defendant’s vehicle was stopped. View "City of Helena v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Mont. Code Ann. 53-21-119(1), which prohibits a person from waiving the right to counsel in civil commitment proceedings, does not violate the Sixth or the Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. After the State filed a petition to involuntarily commit Respondent, Respondent advised the district court that he wished to waive counsel and represent himself. The district court denied Respondent’s request. The district court later approved a stipulation entered into by Respondent, together with his appointed counsel, for commitment to community-based treatment, and ordered Respondent’s commitment. On appeal, Respondent argued that section 53-21-119(1) violates his constitutional rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Due Process clause does not establish as fundamental the right to represent oneself in civil commitment proceedings; and (2) the prohibition against waiver in civil commitment proceedings is reasonably related to a permissible legislative objective. View "In re S.M." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence of a traffic stop based on the law enforcement officer’s lack of particularized suspicion. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court concluded that that particularized suspicion existed and denied the motion. Defendant then entered a nolo contendere plea to driving under the influence. Defendant appealed, challenging the denial of his motion to suppress. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, based on the totality of the circumstances, the district court’s determination that particularized suspicion existed was not clearly erroneous. View "State v. Nelson" on Justia Law