State v. Bullock

Decision Date04 August 1995
Docket NumberNo. 92-536,92-536
PartiesSTATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Bill K. BULLOCK and Eddie J. Peterson, Defendants and Appellants.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

Joseph P. Mazurek, Atty. Gen., Chris D. Tweeten, Asst. Atty. Gen. (argued), Helena, Richard Llewellyn, Jefferson County Atty., Deborah J. Butler, Deputy County Atty., Boulder, for respondent.

TRIEWEILER, Justice.

The defendants, Eddie Peterson and Bill Bullock, were charged in Jefferson County Justice Court with unlawfully killing a game animal in violation of § 87-3-103, MCA, and possession of an unlawfully killed animal in violation of § 87-3-112, MCA. The Justice Court suppressed all of the State's evidence pertaining to Peterson, and dismissed the charges against Bullock. The State appealed to the District Court for a trial de novo pursuant to § 46-17-311, MCA. On appeal, the District Court denied the defendants' motions to dismiss and to suppress evidence. Peterson then pled guilty to unlawfully killing a game animal; Bullock pled guilty to unlawfully possessing a game animal; and both defendants reserved their right to appeal the District Court's order denying their The issues presented on appeal are as follows:

                motions to dismiss and suppress evidence pursuant to § 46-12-204(3), MCA.   Following two orders by this Court which remanded this case to the District Court for further proceedings, we affirm the District Court's order which denied the defendants' motion to dismiss, and reverse the District Court's order which denied the defendants' motion to suppress evidence
                

1. Did the District Court err when it denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the charges against them pursuant to § 46-13-401(2), MCA, based on the State's failure to bring them to trial within six months from the date of their plea entry?

2. Did defendant Bullock have standing to challenge the State's entry upon and search of land owned by Peterson?

3. Does Article II, Section 11, of the Montana Constitution, prohibit warrantless searches and seizures, under the circumstances in this case, on private land that falls outside the curtilage of a dwelling?

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

At about 6:30 a.m. on October 31, 1991, while returning home from work, Chuck Wing observed what he estimated was a large six or seven point antlered bull elk on Boulder Hill near Boulder, Montana. He recognized that the elk was in Hunting District 380 where hunters were allowed to shoot only "spikes" unless they had a special permit. As Wing observed the elk, he heard a gunshot, saw the elk fall, and observed two men and a boy standing near a pickup truck in the vicinity of the fallen elk. He believed the pickup belonged to defendant Eddie J. Peterson. He then observed the three people drag the elk to the truck and load it without field-dressing it. Wing reported the incident to Jefferson County Sheriff Tom Dawson, who, in turn, relayed the information to Game Warden Chris Anderson, an employee of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. Anderson traveled from Helena to Boulder that morning to investigate the incident.

Anderson first interviewed Wing who related the above information. He then drove to Peterson's home in Boulder, but Peterson was not at home. Anderson returned to the sheriff's office where he learned that Peterson had a cabin in Basin Creek. Rather than try to give directions, Dawson agreed to accompany him to the cabin. To reach Peterson's cabin, it is necessary to travel approximately seven miles on a one-lane forest service road which is bounded by forest on both sides. At least one sign along that road indicates that the road is bordered by private property and advises the public to remain on the road.

Peterson's property is separated from the road by a fence. There is a gate which provides access to his property from the forest service road. "No Trespassing" signs are posted on trees on each side of the gate. His cabin is located at the end of a private road 334 feet from the forest service road. Between the forest service road and Peterson's cabin, the terrain is slightly elevated in a way that conceals Peterson's cabin and the other structures on his property. He moved his cabin beyond the hill at an earlier time so that it would not be evident to passersby.

When Anderson and Dawson reached Peterson's property, the gate was open. They entered the property through the gate and drove approximately 180 feet down Peterson's private road. As they descended the crest of the hill between his cabin and the forest service road, they first observed a large bull elk hanging from a tree in an area about 126 feet from Peterson's cabin. The elk could not be seen from the public road, nor was there evidence that it could be seen from any other public location. Peterson testified that the elk was hanging between his cabin, several vehicles, and a guest sleeping cabin.

The parties agreed that, in the past, anyone who wished to enter Peterson's property or drive on his private road had called to ask permission. In fact, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office had done so a few days earlier prior to conducting a search for lost hunters. On the date in question, neither Dawson nor Anderson asked or received permission to be on Peterson's property. Neither had they secured a search warrant, in spite of the fact that Anderson testified in Justice Court that he believed there was probable cause that a crime had been committed, that Peterson was involved, and that Peterson still possessed evidence of that crime.

At the hearing held in the District Court pursuant to the defendants' motion to suppress, there was disagreement about exactly what Anderson and Dawson did after observing the elk hanging near Peterson's cabin. However, in stipulations filed with the court earlier, the parties agreed that after observing the elk, Anderson and Dawson went over to examine it. After conducting the examination, Anderson then requested that Peterson take him and Dawson to the place where the elk was killed. Peterson did so, but at the site where the law enforcement officers were taken, there were no elk tracks--only a pile of the elk's entrails. It was apparent to Anderson that the elk had not been killed at that location.

Anderson then confronted Peterson with the information he had received from Wing. Peterson provided him with an explanation that ultimately was found to be inaccurate. Bullock was then questioned, provided responses consistent with Peterson's, and declined the State's offer of immunity in exchange for testimony that would incriminate Peterson.

The following day, Anderson returned to Peterson's cabin and confiscated the elk carcass.

On November 8, 1991, Peterson was charged in Jefferson County Justice Court with unlawfully killing a game animal in violation of § 87-3-103, MCA. Bullock was charged with possession of an unlawfully killed animal in violation of § 87-3-112, MCA. Both defendants pled not guilty to those charges on November 18, 1991. An amended complaint was filed on December 3, 1991, which included additional charges against Bullock. The defendants filed their initial appearance and pled not guilty to the amended complaint on December 18, 1991.

The charges against both defendants were set for trial on March 6, 1992. However, on January 22, 1992, the defendants moved to suppress all evidence obtained by the State as a result of Anderson's and Dawson's entry onto Peterson's property without a search warrant.

On February 28, 1992, the Justice Court granted the defendants' motion; it suppressed all evidence, whether verbal or physical "connected to the chain of events concerning Eddie Peterson's case"; and it dismissed all charges against Bill Bullock.

On March 2, 1992, the State appealed to the District Court for the Tenth Judicial District in Jefferson County pursuant to § 46-17-311, MCA, and asked for trial de novo. On June 30, 1992, the defendants moved the District Court for an order dismissing the charges against them pursuant to § 46-13-401(2), MCA, because the offenses alleged were misdemeanors, and they had not been brought to trial within six months. In the alternative, the defendants renewed their motion to suppress all evidence that had been gathered by the State without the benefit of a search warrant.

On August 7, 1992, the District Court denied defendants' motions based on the facts which had been stipulated to by the parties. On August 26, 1992, the defendants pled guilty pursuant to § 46-12-204(3), MCA, while preserving their right to appeal the District Court's denial of their motions.

The defendants originally filed their notice of appeal on October 23, 1992. However, we have since remanded to the District Court for evidentiary proceedings and for imposition of sentence. Those proceedings have been completed. We now consider the merits of the issues raised on appeal.

ISSUE 1

Did the District Court err when it denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the charges against them pursuant to § 46-13-401(2), MCA, based on the State's failure to bring them to trial within six months from the date of their plea entry?

Peterson and Bullock contend that since they were charged with misdemeanor offenses, § 46-13-401(2), MCA, required that they be brought to trial within six months from the date of their initial appearance. They initially appeared on November 18, 1991, and trial was not scheduled in the District Court until August 26, 1992, which was more than six months later. They contend that our prior decisions in State v. Knox (1984), 207 Mont. 537, 675 P.2d 950, and State v. Sunford (1990), 244 Mont. 411, 796 P.2d 1084, are inapplicable because there was no trial in the Justice Court, and that instead, the result in this case is controlled by our decision in State v. Ronningen (1984), 213 Mont. 358, 691...

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