Articles Posted in Constitutional 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

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court affirming the justice court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained subsequent to an investigative law enforcement stop. On appeal, the district court concluded that sufficient particularized suspicion of criminal activity existed to temporarily detain Defendant for questioning prior to arrest. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the justice court erred in concluding that the officers had an objectively reasonable particularized suspicion that Defendant had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a criminal offense. Therefore, the justice court erred in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained subsequent to his seizure. View "State v. Hoover" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the city court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to dismiss the charges of reckless driving, criminal mischief, DUI-second offense, and negligent endangerment. In his motion, Defendant argued that the arresting officer failed to read the Montana implied consent advisory and that the failure violated Defendant’s due process rights. After the city court denied the motion, Defendant pleaded guilty to reckless driving, criminal mischief, and DUI-first offense. The district court upheld the denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress, ruling that the appropriate remedy for the failure of an officer to advise an accused of the right to an independent test is the suppression of any blood or breath tests the State may have undertaken. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because there was no test result in this case, there was nothing to suppress; and (2) the officer’s failure to notify Defendant of his right to obtain an independent blood test did not impede Defendant’s right to obtain such a test, nor did it not violate Defendant’s due process rights. View "State v. Berger" on Justia Law

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The district court correctly denied Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence based on an alleged lack of particularized suspicion to seize his vehicle. A trooper stopped Defendant for expired North Dakota vehicle registration. The trooper informed Defendant that he had a particularized suspicion of criminal activity within the vehicle and therefore would deploy a drug canine. After the dog alerted near the driver’s side door, the trooper applied for and received a warrant to search the vehicle. The State later charged Defendant with multiple drug counts. The district court denied Defendant’s motion to suppress, and Defendant pleaded guilty to possession of dangerous drugs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in concluding that the canine search of Defendant’s vehicle was lawfully conducted pursuant to a particularized suspicion of narcotics activity; and (2) the search of Defendant’s vehicle was lawfully carried out pursuant to a valid search warrant. View "State v. Estes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions of two counts of assault with a weapon and one count of aggravated assault. On appeal, Defendant primarily challenged the effectiveness of his counsel regarding the jury instructions. The Supreme Court held (1) defense counsel did not provide ineffective assistance by failing to request a bystander justifiable use of force jury instruction; and (2) the district court did not impose illegal parole conditions by employing the language “for any period of community supervision” because that language was qualified by the statement that followed applying “conditions of probation.” View "State v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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J.S. challenged her involuntary commitment to the Montana State Hospital (MSH). The only issue J.S. raised on appeal waswhether she was denied the effective assistance of counsel. J.S. suffered from bipolar disorder. She exhibited signs of psychosis and delusions after being “clipped” by a car and hit by the car’s mirror. She sustained several cuts and abrasions. Less than a month after being hit by a car, J.S. was taken to the emergency room for a severe cut on her leg that was untreated. J.S. was unable to communicate due to her extreme level of psychosis and delusional thinking. She was paranoid, irritable, and unable to consent to voluntary treatment. The cuts were dead tissue, which if not treated correctly, could have lead to the loss of the limb. Treatment of the wound required J.S. to change the dressings twice a day and take two antibiotics, one of which J.S. had to take four times a day and the other two times a day. J.S. would need to maintain supplies, and health officials were concerned, due to her presenting mental condition, J.S. would be unable to care for herself. The State sought to involuntarily commit J.S. to MSH. The district court ordered the commitment, and J.S. appealed, raising only an ineffective-assistance claim, rather than challenge the commitment itself. The Montana Supreme Court found no Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel for a civil commitment proceeding, and as such, rejected J.S.’ claim. The order of commitment was affirmed. View "Matter of J.S." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part Defendant’s sentence for his conviction of felony possession of dangerous drugs but remanded to the district court with instructions to strike twenty-three recommended conditions for community supervision. The district court sentenced Defendant to ten years in prison and included a number of conditions in the written judgment. The Supreme Court held (1) the prosecutor’s remarks at sentencing were improper, but they did not constitute reversible error because they did not prejudice Defendant; (2) Defendant failed to demonstrate that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at the sentencing hearing; (3) the district court did not impose an unlawful sentence; and (4) the twenty-three recommended conditions listed in the written judgment were not included in the oral pronouncement of sentence and therefore must be stricken. View "State v. Lehrkamp" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order vacating Defendant’s initial guilty plea to felony partner or family member assault (PFMA) and the court’s subsequent order accepting Defendant’s guilty plea to aggravated assault. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court had no authority to vacate his guilty plea to PFMA and that he was twice put in jeopardy for the same offense. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) Defendant waived his right to appeal the district court’s decision to vacate his guilty plea to PFMA in his later plea agreement for aggravated assault; and (2) the State’s prosecution of Defendant for aggravated assault did not compromise the protections against double jeopardy. View "State v. Stone" on Justia Law