Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
by
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Defendant's petition for postconviction relief, holding that Defendant did not meet his burden of establishing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant was found guilty of one count of sexual intercourse without consent and other sexual offenses. The Supreme Court affirmed. Defendant then filed a petition for postconviction relief, arguing that his counsel had rendered ineffective assistance. The district court determined that Appellant had received effective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not carry his burden of establishing that the district court's findings were clearly erroneous and that his counsel's performance was unreasonable or deficient. View "Cheetham v. State" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court determining that a regulation of the Great Falls/Cascade County City-County Board of Health (Board) was invalid, holding that the Board was entitled to summary judgment. The Board claimed that Totem Beverages, Inc. violated the regulation at issue, which was intended to provide clarity regarding smoking shelters. Totem brought this action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. The district court granted Totem's motion for summary judgment and denied the Board's, concluding that the regulation conflicted with the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act (MCIAA) and Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) rules, in violation of Mont. Code Ann. 50-2-116(2)(c)(vi). Both parties appealed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings, holding (1) the regulation did not conflict with the MCIAA or DPHHS rules; and (2) the district court erred by dismissing Totem's selective enforcement claim. View "Totem Beverages, Inc. v. Great Falls-Cascade County City-County Board of Health" on Justia Law

by
On appeal from a guilty plea to possessing 144 pounds of marijuana the Supreme Court remanded this case to the district court for recalculation of Defendant's fine, holding that Mont. Code Ann. 45-9-130(1) is facially unconstitutional to the extent it does not allow the sentencing judge to consider whether the thirty-five percent market value fine is grossly disproportional to the gravity of the offense. Section 45-9-130(1) requires a district court to impose a mandatory thirty-five percent market value fine in drug possession convictions. Pursuant to section 45-9-130(1), the district fined Defendant $75,600, which was thirty-five percent of the market value of the marijuana she was convicted of possessing. On appeal, Defendant argued that the mandatory thirty-five percent market value fine imposed in every drug possession conviction violated her constitutional right against excessive fines because the statute does require consideration of the offender's financial resources, the nature of the crime committed, and the nature of the burden the required fine would have on the offender. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that section 45-9-130(1) is facially unconstitutional and that a sentencing judge may not impose the thirty-five percent market value fine without considering the factors in Mont. Code Ann. 46-18-231(3). View "State v. Yang" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court affirming the judgment of the municipal court denying Defendant's motions to suppress evidence, holding that the municipal court erred when it determined that a particularized suspicion to conduct a DUI investigation existed at the completion of a community caretaker stop. Specifically, the Court held that the municipal court's determination that the police officer obtained a particularized suspicion to conduct a DUI investigation during the scope of his community caretaker stop of Defendant was clearly erroneous because the objective factors present at the completion of the community caretaker stop, in the absence of the additional indicators observed later, did not support an inference that Defendant had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime. Therefore, the Court reversed the municipal court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress, vacated Defendant's conviction for misdemeanor DUI, and remanded the matter with instructions to dismiss the case with prejudice. View "State v. Metz" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court entering summary judgment in favor of the City of Missoula declaring that a city ordinance was not prohibited under Montana law, holding that the district court erred by concluding that the City may require background checks on firearm transfers without violating the statutory prohibition upon local government regulation of the "purchase, sale or other transfer" of firearms. In 2016, the City of Missoula, a self-governing municipality, adopted Ordinance 3581, which imposed a requirement upon persons purchasing or otherwise receiving a firearm in the City to pass a national instant background check. The Attorney General issued an opinion concluding that cities with self-government powers were prohibited by Montana law from enforcing a local regulation or ordinance requiring background checks of firearm sales or transfers. The City filed this action challenging the Attorney General's opinion and seeking a declaration that the ordinance was lawful. The district court concluded that the ordinance was authorized under the statutory exception in Mont. Code Ann. 45-8-351(2) and entered summary judgment for the City. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the express statutory prohibition upon cities in section 45-8-351(1) is a limitation on the City's self-governing powers. View "City of Missoula v. Fox" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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