State v. Chilinski, DA 14-0299

Docket NºDA 14-0299
Citation2016 MT 280, 385 Mont. 249, 383 P.3d 236
Case DateNovember 01, 2016
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana

385 Mont. 249
383 P.3d 236
2016 MT 280

State of Montana, Petitioner and Appellee,
v.
Items of Real Property Owned and/or Possessed by Mike Chilinski, Respondent and Appellant.

DA 14-0299

Supreme Court of Montana.

Submitted on Briefs: August 24, 2015
Decided: November 1, 2016


For Appellant: Christian D. Tweeten, Tweeten Law, PLLC, Missoula, Montana.

For Appellee: Steven C. Haddon, Jefferson County Attorney, Boulder, Montana.

Justice Laurie McKinnon delivered the Opinion of the Court.

385 Mont. 250

¶ 1 Article II, Section 26 of the Montana Constitution guarantees to individuals that the right to a jury trial is “secured to all and shall remain inviolate.” However, this inviolate right encompasses only non-equitable causes of action to which the right had already attached at common law when the Montana Constitution was adopted. At issue here is whether the right to a jury trial attaches to an in rem forfeiture proceeding arising from the alleged use of real property to manufacture dangerous drugs, but nonetheless unconnected to a state drug prosecution. The District Court ruled the right did not attach because a civil in rem forfeiture proceeding was an action in equity. Upon this basis, the court denied Chilinski's request for a jury trial in a civil proceeding to forfeit his home and four parcels of land. We reverse.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

¶ 2 In 2011, state authorities successfully prosecuted and incarcerated Chilinski for cruelty to animals. Crucial to that prosecution was the Jefferson County Sheriff's search of Chilinski's four parcels of property, including his residence, for evidence relating to his inhumane treatment of dogs. That search, conducted pursuant to a warrant, revealed not only an unlawful and cruel dog-breeding operation, but plain-view evidence of marijuana cultivation.

383 P.3d 239

¶ 3 After discovering the marijuana grow operation, county authorities continued looking for evidence of animal cruelty, but also alerted the Southwest Montana Drug Task Force to the marijuana cultivation. The Task Force then procured its own warrant and conducted its own search, separate from the county authorities investigating violations of animal cruelty. The Task Force's search for evidence of dangerous drugs, which later expanded under a second warrant, allegedly uncovered more than three hundred marijuana plants and over three pounds of processed marijuana on Chilinski's property.

¶ 4 As a result of these discoveries, the State initiated a forfeiture proceeding in October of 2011 against Chilinski's property, but the scale of his alleged grow operation drew the attention of federal authorities. The State suspended its proceeding against Chilinski on July 31, 2012, in deference to the United States bringing an earlier

385 Mont. 251

action on May 2, 2012. The federal indictment charged Chilinski with production of dangerous drugs and included a forfeiture provision. The record indicates Chilinski was convicted of manufacturing marijuana in the United States District Court for the District of Montana, but that federal authorities abandoned the accompanying forfeiture action for unknown reasons.

¶ 5 After the federal prosecution for forfeiture of Chilinski's property had been abandoned, the State resumed its civil forfeiture proceedings in June of 2013 pursuant to § 44–12–201, MCA (2013), et seq.—Montana's civil forfeiture statute. This statutory scheme allowed for property used in the manufacture of dangerous drugs to be seized upon a showing of probable cause, and then forfeited to the state following a summary hearing. Importantly, the statute mandated that the proceeding be heard only before a judge, precluding the use of a jury.1 In its 2015 session, the Legislature repealed this provision and replaced it with § 44–12–207, MCA, et seq., which does not mandate that the trial be before a judge.

¶ 6 At Chilinski's forfeiture hearing held in the Fifth Judicial District Court on January 22, 2014, Chilinski appeared pro se and presented a multitude of theories why he should not lose his property. Although his presentation was disjointed and incoherent, his most cogent and meritorious argument was that the forfeiture statute violated his right to a jury trial guaranteed to him by Article II, Section 26 of the Montana Constitution and the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. Chilinski clearly requested in his complaint a jury trial “on all issues so triable,” and argued that these constitutional provisions entitled him to a trial by jury before his property could be forfeited to the state. At the hearing, the court explained to Chilinski that the State's complaint for civil forfeiture was based in equity and that, therefore, Chilinski had no right to be heard by a jury. The court reasoned that the proceeding was to determine title, which was an equitable action and thus outside the scope of the right to a jury trial. The District Court conducted the hearing without a jury and concluded that Chilinski used his property to assist in the production and manufacture of illegal drugs. The District Court forfeited Chilinski's property to the State. Chilinski appeals the court's denial of his right to a jury trial. For purposes of appeal, this Court appointed counsel

385 Mont. 252

on Chilinski's behalf, who has appeared pro bono.2 Having found adequate grounds pursuant to Article II, Section 26 of Montana's Constitution to grant Chilinski the right to a jury trial, we decline to examine the same right as it might exist under the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. We restate the issue as follows:

Whether § 44–12–203(3), MCA (2013), violates Article II, Section 26 of Montana's Constitution by depriving individuals of the right to a trial by jury.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

383 P.3d 240

¶ 7 This Court's authority to review constitutional questions is plenary. Williams v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs., 2013 MT 243, ¶ 23, 371 Mont. 356, 308 P.3d 88. Legislative enactments are presumed to be constitutional, and the party challenging the provision has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that it is unconstitutional. Williams , ¶ 23. We review a district court's conclusions regarding the constitutionality of a statute for correctness. Williams , ¶ 23.

DISCUSSION

¶ 8 This Court has not previously considered the constitutionality of that part of § 44–12–203(3), MCA (2013), which denies a jury trial in forfeiture proceedings. It is well-established that although Article II, Section 26 of Montana's Constitution provides that “[t]he right of trial by jury is secured to all and shall remain inviolate,” the right to jury trial encompassed by § 26 embraces only those causes of action “in which the right was enjoyed when the constitution was adopted.” Supola v. Mont. DOJ, Drivers License Bureau , 278 Mont. 421, 424–25, 925 P.2d 480, 482 (1996) (quoting In re C.L.A. , 211 Mont. 393, 396, 685 P.2d 931, 933 (1984) ). Montana's 1889 Constitution codified and preserved all existing common law rights to a jury trial. Those rights were then re-codified and protected in Section 26 of Montana's 1972 Constitution. In re C.L.A., 211 Mont. at 396, 685 P.2d at 933. In Supola, we rejected the petitioner's claim that § 26 provides a right to jury trial in every controversy and recognized that a party has never had a jury trial right in a purely equitable action. Supola , 278 Mont. at 425, 925 P.2d at 482. In Supola, we examined the 1972 constitutional convention history of Section 26 and observed that

385 Mont. 253

delegates at the 1972 convention proposed an amendment which would have extended the Section 26 guarantee to actions in equity, but that the amendment failed on the floor. Supola , 278 Mont. at 424–25, 925 P.2d at 482.

¶ 9 While we confirmed in Supola that Section 26 does not apply to purely equitable actions, we recognized that issues of both equity and law could become intertwined in the same action, making it difficult to preserve the right to jury in non-equitable claims. Supola , 278 Mont. at 425, 925 P.2d at 482. The distinctions between law and equity originate from the bifurcated judiciary of England, where, prior to the modern era, chancery courts sat in equity, while the King's Bench and other courts sat in law. Equity courts were usually ecclesiastically-based and keepers of “the king's conscience,” providing ethical or morality-based remedies in the absence of an adequate remedy at law. These once disparate tribunals, equity courts and courts of law, are said to have since “merged” in the United States, and there is now only a single judiciary that sits in both law and equity. See Fleming James, Jr., Right to a Jury Trial in Civil Actions , 72 Yale L.J. 655, 655–75 (1963) ; and United States v. One 1976 Mercedes Benz , 618 F.2d 453, 457 (7th Cir. 1980). Nonetheless, where legal and equitable claims are bound together in the same case, the right to a jury trial attaches to the legal claims, and “must not be infringed either by trying the legal issues as incidental to equitable ones or by a court...

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4 practice notes
  • State v. Timbs, Supreme Court Case No. 27S04-1702-MI-70
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • October 28, 2019
    ...Owned and/or Possessed by Chilinski , 588 So.2d 957, 967–68 (Fla. 1991) (due process and jury trial); State v. Items of Real Prop. , 385 Mont. 249, 383 P.3d 236, 243–45 (2016) (jury trial); State v. Nunez , 129 N.M. 63, 2 P.3d 264, 291–92 (1999) (due process). See generally One 1958 Plymout......
  • Nelson v. City of Billings, DA 17-0074
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • February 28, 2018
    ...by § 26 embraces only those causes of action ‘in which the right was enjoyed when the constitution was adopted.’ " State v. Chilinski , 2016 MT 280, ¶ 8, 385 Mont. 249, 383 P.3d 236 (citations omitted).4 "The immunity offered by the work-product doctrine depends on the type of work product ......
  • State v. Johnson, DA 16-0657
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • November 20, 2018
    ...added).¶ 33 Likewise, in examining Montana’s "forfeiture provisions it is hard to ignore their penological basis." State v. Chilinski , 2016 MT 280, ¶ 21, 385 Mont. 249, 383 P.3d 236 (forfeiture proceedings imposed for violations of the law are not matters in equity). Unlike restitution, fo......
  • Renz v. Everett-Martin, DA 19-0168
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • October 22, 2019
    ...be based upon a claim of legal title, or upon a mere possessory right, either party is entitled to a trial by jury." State v. Chilinski , 2016 MT 280, ¶ 10, 385 Mont. 249, 383 P.3d 236 (citing Mont. Ore Purchasing Co v. Boston & Mont. Consol. Copper & Silver Mining Co. , 27 Mont. 536, 538, ......
4 cases
  • State v. Timbs, Supreme Court Case No. 27S04-1702-MI-70
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • October 28, 2019
    ...Owned and/or Possessed by Chilinski , 588 So.2d 957, 967–68 (Fla. 1991) (due process and jury trial); State v. Items of Real Prop. , 385 Mont. 249, 383 P.3d 236, 243–45 (2016) (jury trial); State v. Nunez , 129 N.M. 63, 2 P.3d 264, 291–92 (1999) (due process). See generally One 1958 Plymout......
  • Nelson v. City of Billings, DA 17-0074
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • February 28, 2018
    ...by § 26 embraces only those causes of action ‘in which the right was enjoyed when the constitution was adopted.’ " State v. Chilinski , 2016 MT 280, ¶ 8, 385 Mont. 249, 383 P.3d 236 (citations omitted).4 "The immunity offered by the work-product doctrine depends on the type of work product ......
  • State v. Johnson, DA 16-0657
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • November 20, 2018
    ...added).¶ 33 Likewise, in examining Montana’s "forfeiture provisions it is hard to ignore their penological basis." State v. Chilinski , 2016 MT 280, ¶ 21, 385 Mont. 249, 383 P.3d 236 (forfeiture proceedings imposed for violations of the law are not matters in equity). Unlike restitution, fo......
  • Renz v. Everett-Martin, DA 19-0168
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • October 22, 2019
    ...be based upon a claim of legal title, or upon a mere possessory right, either party is entitled to a trial by jury." State v. Chilinski , 2016 MT 280, ¶ 10, 385 Mont. 249, 383 P.3d 236 (citing Mont. Ore Purchasing Co v. Boston & Mont. Consol. Copper & Silver Mining Co. , 27 Mont. 536, 538, ......

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