State v. Luke, DA 12–0775.

Decision Date28 January 2014
Docket NumberNo. DA 12–0775.,DA 12–0775.
Citation373 Mont. 398,321 P.3d 70
PartiesSTATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Jared Mulloy LUKE, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

For Appellant: Wade Zolynski, Chief Appellate Defender, Nicholas Domitrovich, Assistant Appellate Defender; Helena, Montana.

For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Micheal S. Wellenstein, Assistant Attorney General; Helena, Montana, Ed Corrigan, Flathead County Attorney, Caitlin Overland, Deputy County Attorney; Kalispell, Montana.

Justice LAURIE McKINNON delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 The State of Montana charged Jared Mulloy Luke with five misdemeanor offenses in Flathead County Justice Court. Luke filed a motion to dismiss under § 46–13–401(2), MCA, on the ground that he had not been brought to trial within six months of entering his not-guilty pleas. The Justice Court denied the motion, and the Eleventh Judicial District Court affirmed. Luke now appeals to this Court.

¶ 2 The issue on appeal is whether good cause existed for holding Luke's trial past the six-month deadline in § 46–13–401(2), MCA. We conclude that good cause existed, and we accordingly affirm the decisions of the Justice Court and the District Court.

BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Luke was charged on November 26, 2011, with the following offenses: driving under the influence of alcohol or, in the alternative, with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, first offense, in violation of § 61–8–401(1)(a) or –406(1)(a), MCA, respectively; failure to carry proof of insurance, in violation of § 61–6–302(2), MCA; possession of an open alcoholic beverage container, in violation of § 61–8–460, MCA; and speeding, in violation of § 61–8–309, MCA. Luke appeared in the Justice Court on December 5, 2011, and entered pleas of not guilty.

¶ 4 The Justice Court held an omnibus hearing on February 7, 2012. Luke and his counsel appeared in person. The Omnibus Hearing Order and Memorandum, which Luke and his counsel both signed, states in pertinent part that [i]f either party requests a jury trial, the Court will send the parties notice of the jury trial date and will set a date and time for a pretrial conference. The pretrial conference will be set to occur during the week prior to the date scheduled for the jury trial.” The Memorandum further states that, at the pretrial conference, the party requesting a jury trial “shall ... [a]ppear and confirm the party's intention to proceed to trial by jury.” The party must also [f]ile proposed jury instructions and verdict form and serve a copy upon the opposing party.” Finally, this section of the Memorandum concludes with the following paragraph:

If the party requesting a jury trial either fails to appear at the pretrial conference and to confirm the party's intention to proceed to trial by jury or fails to file and serve proposed jury instructions and verdict form at or before the pretrial conference, the party shall be deemed to have waived the party's right to trial by jury trial and the jury trial shall be vacated and the case re-set by the Court for a bench trial at the next available time....

The Memorandum indicates that Luke requested a jury trial.

¶ 5 The next day (February 8, 2012), the Justice Court notified Luke, his counsel, and the prosecutor that a jury trial would be held May 3 at 9 a.m. and that the pretrial conference would be held April 27 at 4 p.m. The Notice of Pretrial Conference stated: “The court hereby orders the personal attendance of the defendant at this hearing.” Yet, while Luke's counsel appeared at the April 27 conference, Luke did not. Although the parties (in their respective briefs on appeal) dispute whether Luke was merely “late” to the conference or instead “showed up after the [conference had] occurred,” the timing of Luke's arrival is immaterial. Luke concedes that his failure to appear at the conference on time was enough to trigger the waiver provision quoted above. Luke notes that he “has never contested his waiver of a jury trial” due to his failure of timely appearance.

¶ 6 On April 30, 2012, the Justice Court gave notice that a bench trial would be held on June 13 at 4 p.m. On the date of the bench trial, Luke appeared with his counsel and moved to dismiss the case on the ground that trial was being held beyond the deadline imposed by § 46–13–401(2), MCA. This statute requires a misdemeanor prosecution to be dismissed, with prejudice, if the defendant is not brought to trial within six months of entering his plea, unless the trial has been postponed upon the defendant's motion or good cause has been shown for the delay. Luke argued that the six-month deadline had passed eight days earlier (on June 5), that he had not filed any motions postponing the trial, and that there was no good cause for delaying his trial past the six-month window.

¶ 7 The Justice Court denied Luke's motion. The court reasoned that Luke's failure to appear at the pretrial conference constituted good cause for vacating his jury trial and rescheduling it as a bench trial. The court stated (in open court) that the bench trial had been “rescheduled according to the next available date on the court's calendar which happened to be today at 4 p.m.” The court then conducted the bench trial and found Luke guilty of speeding, driving with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, and failing to carry proof of insurance. The court acquitted him of the open-container violation and the alternate DUI charge. The court sentenced Luke to six months in jail, with all but one day suspended, and imposed fines totaling $1,035.

¶ 8 Luke appealed to the District Court, which affirmed the denial of his motion to dismiss. The District Court reasoned that there was a connection between Luke's failure to appear at the pretrial conference and the delay in his trial. The court noted that Luke had been clearly advised that if he failed to appear at the pretrial conference, his jury trial would be vacated and a bench trial would be rescheduled for the Justice Court's next available date. The District Court rejected Luke's contention that the Justice Court could have held the bench trial on the May 3 date originally set for the jury trial, noting that Luke had not pointed to any evidence in the record supporting this claim. The District Court also noted that the Justice Court was not required to relinquish its flexibility in the scheduling of cases in order to accommodate Luke's failure to appear. The District Court concluded that good cause existed to justify the delay in Luke's trial.

STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶ 9 On Luke's appeal from the Justice Court, the District Court functioned as an intermediate appellate court. See§§ 3–5–303 and 3–10–115, MCA. Acting in its appellate capacity, a district court does not make findings of fact or discretionary trial court rulings; rather, the district court is ‘confined to review of the record and questions of law.’ Stanley v. Lemire, 2006 MT 304, ¶ 25, 334 Mont. 489, 148 P.3d 643 (quoting § 3–10–115(1), MCA). Like this Court, the district court reviews factual findings under the “clearly erroneous” standard, discretionary rulings for abuse of discretion, and both legal conclusions and mixed questions of law and fact de novo. Stanley, ¶ 25. Since the scope of the district court's review is the same as this Court's review of the lower court's judgment, we review the case as if the appeal originally had been filed in this Court. Stanley, ¶ 26;State v. Ellison, 2012 MT 50, ¶ 8, 364 Mont. 276, 272 P.3d 646. We examine the record independently of the district court's decision, applying the relevant standard of review. Ellison, ¶ 8;Stanley, ¶ 26.

¶ 10 Here, the question is whether the charges against Luke had to be dismissed under § 46–13–401(2), MCA. Whether the right to speedy trial has been violated is a question of law, and we review the trial court's legal conclusions to determine whether the court's interpretation of law is correct. City of Helena v. Roan, 2010 MT 29, ¶ 7, 355 Mont. 172, 226 P.3d 601;State v. Martz, 2008 MT 382, ¶ 17, 347 Mont. 47, 196 P.3d 1239. We will not disturb any factual findings underlying the trial court's application of § 46–13–401(2), MCA, unless those findingsare shown to be clearly erroneous. Roan, ¶ 7;State v. Hass, 2011 MT 296, ¶ 13, 363 Mont. 8, 265 P.3d 1221. The court's application of controlling legal principles to its factual findings is a mixed question of law and fact, which we review de novo. State v. Weaver, 2008 MT 86, ¶ 10, 342 Mont. 196, 179 P.3d 534.

DISCUSSION

¶ 11 Whether good cause existed for holding Luke's trial past the six-month deadline in § 46–13–401(2), MCA.

¶ 12 A criminal defendant has a fundamental constitutional right to a speedy trial under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article II, Section 24 of the Montana Constitution. State v. Ariegwe, 2007 MT 204, ¶ 20, 338 Mont. 442, 167 P.3d 815;State v. Stops, 2013 MT 131, ¶ 18, 370 Mont. 226, 301 P.3d 811. Distinct from that constitutional right, a criminal defendant also has a statutory right to be brought to trial on a misdemeanor charge within six months of entering his or her plea, with important exceptions discussed below. Section 46–13–401(2), MCA. In the present case, Luke has asserted only his statutory right to a speedy trial.

¶ 13 Pursuant to § 46–13–401(2), MCA, a prosecution on a misdemeanor charge must be dismissed, with prejudice, if the defendant is not brought to trial within six months after entering his or her plea. This requirement applies, however, only if (1) the trial “has not been postponed upon the defendant's motion” and (2) the State has not shown “good cause” for the delay. Section 46–13–401(2), MCA; accordMartz, ¶ 30.1

¶ 14 In the present case, the first prong is met. Luke did not file any motion requesting a postponement of his trial. Nor did he file any pretrial motions that had...

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