State v. Claassen

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana
Citation367 Mont. 478,291 P.3d 1176
Docket NumberNo. DA 12–0162.,DA 12–0162.
PartiesSTATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Leslie Jon CLAASSEN, Defendant and Appellant.
Decision Date27 December 2012

367 Mont. 478
291 P.3d 1176

STATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Appellee,
Leslie Jon CLAASSEN, Defendant and Appellant.

No. DA 12–0162.

Supreme Court of Montana.

Submitted on Briefs Oct. 24, 2012.
Decided Dec. 27, 2012.

[291 P.3d 1178]

For Appellant: Wade Zolynski, Chief Appellate Defender; Eileen A. Larkin, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana.

For Appellee: Steve Bullock, Montana Attorney General; Tammy A. Hinderman, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Gina Dahl, Hill County Attorney, Havre, Montana.

Justice MICHAEL E. WHEAT delivered the Opinion of the Court.

[367 Mont. 479]¶ 1 Leslie Jon Claassen (Claassen) appeals from the judgment of the Twelfth Judicial District Court, Hill County, revoking his suspended sentence for sexual abuse of children and imposing a two-year commitment to the Department of Corrections (DOC) to run consecutively to his federal sentence. The court also ordered that Claassen be designated a Level 3 sexual offender. We affirm.


¶ 2 Claassen raises the following issue on appeal:

¶ 3 Did the District Court err by elevating Claassen's sexual offender level designation from Level 1 to Level 3 upon revocation?


¶ 4 On March 25, 2004, the State charged Claassen by Information with one count of Sexual Abuse of Children, a felony, in violation of § 45–5–625(1)(e), MCA. Claassen pled guilty to the charge on April 8, 2005, pursuant to a plea agreement with the State. Prior to sentencing, the District Court ordered the completion of a psychosexual evaluation and a presentence investigation report (PSI).

¶ 5 Dr. Michael Scolatti completed the psychosexual evaluation of Claassen. Dr. Scolatti determined that Claassen was a Level 1 sexual offender with a low risk to re-offend. The PSI offered several treatment recommendations, and indicated that Claassen was an appropriate candidate for outpatient sexual offender treatment.

¶ 6 Probation and Parole Officer Heather Ostwalt compiled Claassen's PSI, and concluded that the plea agreement's recommendation of a seven-year sentence to the DOC, with two years suspended, was an appropriate sentence. Among the many conditions she recommended for the period of community supervision was the requirement that Claassen follow all of the recommendations of Dr. Scolatti's evaluation, engage in sexual offender treatment, and refrain from using or possessing pornography.

¶ 7 At the sentencing hearing, the District Court sentenced Claassen to the DOC for a period of seven years, with two years suspended upon several terms and conditions. One of these conditions required that Claassen “not use or possess any pornography, erotica, x-rated videos, adult books or magazines....” During the oral pronouncement of the [367 Mont. 480]sentence on August 30, 2005, the District Court designated Claassen a Level 1 sexual offender in accordance with Scolatti's evaluation and recommendation. The court did not include the level designation in its written judgment.

¶ 8 Claassen was discharged to serve his two-year suspended sentence in July, 2010. On December 15, 2010, Claassen's probation officers conducted a routine home visit at Claassen's motel room and found Claassen in possession of child pornography. On December 21, 2010, Claassen was terminated from his community-based sexual offender treatment. In the termination letter, Claassen's treatment provider, Dr. Bob Bakko, stated that Claassen was a “danger to supervise and or treat in the community and should be incarcerated.” Dr. Bakko recommended that based on the evidence seized on December 15 and Claassen's treatment progress, Claassen should be designated a Level 3 sexual offender. Probation Officer Michelle Downey, who

[291 P.3d 1179]

filed the report of violation pertaining to the home visit on December 15, 2010, submitted the letter from Dr. Bakko to the court with her report.

¶ 9 On January 4, 2011, the State petitioned the District Court to revoke Claassen's suspended sentence, alleging, in part, that Claassen violated the no-pornography condition of his sentence. Prior to the District Court's hearings on the matter, the federal government got involved and charged Claassen with receipt of child pornography based on the discovery during the home visit on December 15, 2010. Claassen pled guilty to this charge and was sentenced in December, 2011, to serve a 20–year term in federal prison, which was ordered to run consecutively to any sentence imposed by the State District Court.

¶ 10 On January 17, 2012, the District Court held an evidentiary hearing at which it found Claassen in violation of the conditions of his sentence. At the disposition hearing held two days later, Officer Downey testified and recommended the court revoke Claassen's suspended sentence. Further, she stated that she agreed with Dr. Bakko's recommendation that Claassen be designated a Level 3 sexual offender.

¶ 11 At the conclusion of the disposition hearing, the State asked the court to revoke Claassen's suspended sentence and modify his sexual offender level designation, elevating it from Level 1 to Level 3. Claassen responded by arguing, in part, against altering his level designation. Specifically, he stated:

And the level in terms of the tier level, we simply ask the Court to not to [sic] adjust the tier level that was previously ordered [367 Mont. 481]here in Court. Defendant is in federal custody and I imagine they'll make their own decision on what tier he is. He's on their supervision now at this point. And we object to the tier level being modified as there has been an expert who testified regarding the increase in tier level space.1

¶ 12 The court revoked Claassen's suspended sentence and committed him to the DOC for a period of two years to run consecutively to his federal sentence. It also ordered, “[b]ased on the report of Dr. Bob Bakko, ... Defendant is designated a Tier Level III Sex Offender.” During the revocation proceedings, the District Court did not order the completion of a new PSI or sexual offender evaluation report.

¶ 13 Claassen timely appeals.


¶ 14 We review criminal sentences that include at least one year of actual incarceration for legality only, which is generally a review for correctness. State v. Wilson, 2011 MT 277, ¶ 18, 362 Mont. 416, 264 P.3d 1146 (citing State v. Ariegwe, 2007 MT 204, ¶¶ 174–75, 338 Mont. 442, 167 P.3d 815). As a question of law, we review de novo whether the sentencing court had statutory authority to impose the sentence, the sentence falls within the statutory parameters, and the court adhered to the statutory mandates. Wilson, ¶ 18 (citing Ariegwe, ¶¶ 174–75).


¶ 15 Did the District Court err by elevating Claassen's sexual offender level designation from Level 1 to Level 3 upon revocation?

¶ 16 As an initial matter, both parties agree the oral pronouncement of Claassen's 2005 sentence is the valid, final judgment. “[T]he sentence orally pronounced from the bench in the presence of the defendant is the legally effective sentence and valid, final judgment.” State v. Lane, 1998 MT 76, ¶ 40, 288 Mont. 286, 957 P.2d 9. In situations in which a conflict exists between the oral or written judgments, the oral judgment controls. State v. Kroll, 2004 MT 203, ¶ 18, 322 Mont. 294, 95 P.3d 717. Here, when the District Court orally pronounced its sentence for Claassen's 2005 sexual abuse of children [367 Mont. 482]conviction, it designated Claassen

[291 P.3d 1180]

a Level 1 sexual offender. Although this designation was not incorporated in...

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