State v. Ditton

Decision Date19 September 2006
Docket NumberNo. 04-434.,04-434.
Citation333 Mont. 483,144 P.3d 783,2006 MT 235
PartiesSTATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Michael H. DITTON, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

For Appellant: Michael H. Ditton, pro se, Bozeman, Montana.

For Respondent: Honorable Mike McGrath, Attorney General; Jim Wheelis, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Susan L. Wordal, Assistant City Prosecutor, Bozeman, Montana.

Justice JOHN WARNER delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 Michael H. Ditton (Ditton), appearing pro se, appeals from an order of the Eighteenth Judicial District Court, Gallatin County, affirming his conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) in Bozeman Municipal Court. We affirm.

¶ 2 We restate and address the following issues on appeal:

¶ 3 1. Must the complaint against Ditton be dismissed because the Municipal Court did not timely determine that there was probable cause to file the charge?

¶ 4 2. Did the District Court err in affirming the Municipal Court's decisions regarding the exclusion of evidence obtained during pretrial incarceration, and not to dismiss the charge because Ditton was not provided with all information in the possession of the State?

¶ 5 3. Was Ditton the victim of outrageous government conduct?

¶ 6 4. Did the District Court err in affirming the Municipal Court's refusal to dismiss the case because Ditton's driver's license was reinstated?

¶ 7 5. Did the District Court err in affirming the Municipal Court's denial of Ditton's motion to take judicial notice of the Americans with Disabilities Act and scientific facts concerning symptoms of insulin-dependent diabetes?

¶ 8 6. Did the District Court err in affirming the Municipal Court's rulings on the admission of evidence?

¶ 9 7. Did the District Court err in affirming the Municipal Court's denial of Ditton's motion to dismiss?

¶ 10 8. Did the District Court err in affirming the Municipal Court's rulings on jury instructions?


¶ 11 On the evening of December 20, 2002, Ditton was involved in a car accident in Bozeman. Police Sergeant Darcy Dahle (Dahle) and Officer Travis Munter (Munter) investigated the accident. Both officers smelled an alcoholic beverage about Ditton's breath or person. Munter observed that his eyes were bloodshot and his speech slurred. Munter and Dahle both testified to Ditton's unsatisfactory performance of the standardized field sobriety tests. A preliminary alcohol screening test detected his blood alcohol content as .230 percent. Officer Munter arrested Ditton for DUI in violation of § 61-8-401, MCA. Munter gave Ditton a signed Notice to Appear and Complaint charging him with the violation. Neither officer asked him whether he was diabetic or took insulin. A video camera in a law enforcement vehicle recorded the investigation. Ditton refused to take a breathalyzer test after his arrest, leading to seizure of his driver's license as provided in § 61-8-402(4), MCA.

¶ 12 Munter took Ditton to the Gallatin County Detention Center. Officer Mike Wick (Wick) testified that he was rude and belligerent, and gave no indication of medical problems or injuries. Wick did not recall that Ditton demanded his release or repeatedly asked to make a phone call. To the contrary, Ditton testified that he demanded his immediate release and repeatedly asked to call his son to bring him medical supplies. Ditton was released on bail the following morning.

¶ 13 At his arraignment on December 23, 2002, Ditton pled not guilty. Bozeman Municipal Court Judge Patricia Kyle Carlson at that time signed an order setting his case for jury trial on June 17, 2003. Munter completed an Affidavit of Probable Cause and signed it on January 28, 2003.

¶ 14 Ditton petitioned the District Court for the return of his driver's license. At the resulting hearing, which Ditton did not attend, the State said it would consent to the return of his driver's license without admitting any facts in the petition. On June 3, 2003, the District Court ordered that, since the State did not object, it would grant the petition without making any findings of fact.

¶ 15 Even though he was neither imprisoned nor otherwise restrained of liberty, as required by § 46-22-101(1), MCA, Ditton petitioned the District Court for a Writ of Habeas Corpus while the case was before the Municipal Court. He argued that the writ should issue because the Municipal Court had made no determination of probable cause. The District Court considered this petition in Gallatin County Cause No. DV-03-208. The District Court heard testimony from Municipal Judge Carlson concerning whether a probable cause determination was properly made. Following this testimony, the District Court found:

Although not explicit in the order which was issued following the filing of [Ditton's motion to dismiss], Municipal Judge Carlson did testify she had concluded there was Probable Cause for the filing of the compliant. Although not in writing, the Municipal Court Judge did make the necessary determination under § 46-11-110 MCA that there was probable cause for filing the charge.

The District Court, based on this specific finding of fact that the Municipal Court made the necessary determination of probable cause to file the complaint, denied Ditton's petition for habeas corpus on June 16, 2003, and closed DV-03-208.

¶ 16 Ditton made numerous pre-trial motions in the Municipal Court. On June 16, 2003, the Municipal Court granted his motions to suppress the statements he made immediately prior to and after his arrest, as well as the results of the preliminary alcohol screening test. The Municipal Court denied his motion to suppress the videotape of his arrest but ordered the audio portion not be heard by the jury. The Municipal Court denied his motion to suppress any and all derivative evidence. The Municipal Court again ruled that there was sufficient probable cause to support his arrest. The Municipal Court denied Ditton's motion to dismiss based on judicial estoppel and refused to take judicial notice of a list of twenty-three1 "Indisputable Medical Facts" he submitted.

¶ 17 A Municipal Court jury heard the case against Ditton on June 17, 2003. Ditton, representing himself, argued that another car caused the accident, and that his diabetes caused his poor performance on the field sobriety tests. He and the State disagreed regarding proper jury instructions. The jury convicted Ditton of DUI, and he appealed to the District Court. The District Court considered the appeal as its Cause Number DC-03-204. By order of April 29, 2004, the District Court affirmed Ditton's conviction. This appeal followed. Additional facts are set out as necessary.


¶ 18 A district court's review of a municipal court's orders and judgment is limited to review of the record and questions of law. Section 3-6-110, MCA; State v. Clark, 2005 MT 169, ¶ 8, 327 Mont. 474, ¶ 8, 115 P.3d 208, ¶ 8. This Court reviews a district court's findings of fact to determine if they are clearly erroneous. State v. Workman, 2005 MT 22, ¶ 9, 326 Mont. 1, ¶ 9, 107 P.3d 462, ¶ 9. This Court reviews a district court's conclusions of law to determine whether they are correct. State v. Polaski, 2005 MT 13, ¶ 10, 325 Mont. 351, ¶ 10, 106 P.3d 538, ¶ 10. We review a trial court's evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion. Payne v. Knutson, 2004 MT 271, ¶ 20, 323 Mont. 165, ¶ 20, 99 P.3d 200, ¶ 20. Questions of constitutional law are subject to plenary review. State v. Webb, 2005 MT 5, ¶ 9, 325 Mont. 317, ¶ 9, 106 P.3d 521, ¶ 9. A district court's resolution of an issue involving a question of constitutional law is a conclusion of law that we review for correctness. State v. Mallak, 2005 MT 49, ¶ 14, 326 Mont. 165, ¶ 14, 109 P.3d 209, ¶ 14. "The denial of a motion for a directed verdict is within the sound discretion of the trial court." State v. Clausell, 2001 MT 62, ¶ 28, 305 Mont. 1, ¶ 28, 22 P.3d 1111, ¶ 28 (quoting State v. Blackcrow, 1999 MT 44, ¶ 18, 293 Mont. 374, ¶ 18, 975 P.2d 1253, ¶ 18). We give trial courts great leeway in instructing the jury, and will overturn a jury instruction only in the case of an abuse of discretion. Payne, ¶ 14.


¶ 19 Must the complaint against Ditton be dismissed because the Municipal Court did not timely determine that there was probable cause to file the charge?

¶ 20 Ditton argues that because the Municipal Court made no determination of probable cause until nearly six months after the arrest and the charge, this case must be dismissed.

¶ 21 Section 46-11-110, MCA, provides:

When a complaint is presented to a court charging a person with the commission of an offense, the court shall examine the sworn complaint or any affidavits, if filed, to determine whether probable cause exists to allow the filing of a charge.

¶ 22 Ditton argues that the lack of a specific, timely order of the Municipal Court finding probable cause requires the dismissal of the DUI charge. The record in DC-03-204 does not contain a written order stating that the Municipal Court found probable cause to file the complaint prior to June 16, 2003. However, attached to Ditton's appellate brief for our consideration is the District Court's order of June 16, 2003, in DV-03-208, referred to above at ¶ 15, which is a specific finding of fact, based on evidence presented to the District Court, that Municipal Judge Carlson did indeed make the determination that there was probable cause to file the DUI charge that is required by § 46-11-110, MCA. DV-03-208 was initiated by Ditton. It concerns the same charge and the same issue which Ditton now appeals. As we have been invited to do so by Ditton, we consider the District Court's order in DV-03-208 in this appeal.

¶ 23 A District Court's finding of fact will not be reversed unless it is shown to be clearly...

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