State v. Talksabout

Decision Date11 April 2017
Docket NumberDA 15-0229
Citation387 Mont. 166,392 P.3d 574
Parties STATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Rylan TALKSABOUT, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

For Appellant: Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Kristen L. Peterson, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Tammy K Plubell, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Daniel Guzynski, Mary Cochenour, Special Deputy Cascade County Attorneys, Helena, Montana

Justice Beth Baker delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 The State charged seventeen-year-old Rylan Talksabout with two counts of sexual intercourse without consent. Talksabout sought to have each charge transferred to Youth Court. After analyzing the relevant statutory factors, the District Court denied both transfer motions. Talksabout eventually pleaded guilty to one count, and the court sentenced him to fifty years in prison, with ten years suspended. We address the following issues on appeal:

1. Whether the District Court abused its discretion by denying Talksabout's requests to transfer the charges to Youth Court;
2. Whether the District Court erred in sentencing Talksabout.

¶ 2 Applying appropriate deference, we affirm the District Court's refusal to transfer the charges to Youth Court. We remand for entry of an amended judgment and review of the sentence as provided by law.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

¶ 3 In August 2013, the State filed an information in the District Court charging Talksabout with one count of sexual intercourse without consent. The State filed the information directly in the District Court pursuant to § 41-5-206(2), MCA, because of the nature of the charge and because Talksabout was seventeen when the offense occurred. The charge arose out of Talksabout's non-consensual sexual contact with fourteen-year-old A.C. during an underage drinking party. An intoxicated A.C. told Talksabout that she did not want to have sex, but Talksabout undressed her and digitally penetrated her after trying to have sex with her.

¶ 4 The District Court held a hearing in January 2014 pursuant to § 41-5-206(3), MCA, to determine whether the case should be transferred to Youth Court. Juvenile Probation Officer Tim Callahan and Great Falls Police Detective Mike Stimac testified for the State. Licensed psychologist Dr. Bowman Smelko and Talksabout's grandmother Betty Trombley—with whom Talksabout lived—testified on Talksabout's behalf. Dr. Smelko had evaluated Talksabout and opined that Talksabout's interests and the interests of the community would best be served by handling the case in Youth Court. The District Court agreed that transferring the case to Youth Court would be in Talksabout's best interests. It concluded, however, that the nature of the offense and the interests of community protection weighed against transferring the case to Youth Court. The District Court therefore denied the transfer motion. The court noted further that Talksabout was under investigation for an unrelated sex offense involving a minor.

¶ 5 In January 2014, the State filed another information in the District Court charging Talksabout with a separate count of sexual intercourse without consent. Even though Talksabout was only sixteen at the time of that offense, the State again filed the information directly in the District Court because sexual intercourse without consent is an enumerated offense under § 41-5-206(1), MCA. The incident involved D.P., who was twelve at the time. The second incident was similar to the first—D.P. and Talksabout were at an underage drinking party and Talksabout got D.P. alone in a room, undressed her, and had sex with her after being told no.

¶ 6 The two cases were consolidated on the State's motion. In July 2014, the District Court held another hearing pursuant to § 41-5-206(3), MCA, to determine whether to transfer the second incident to Youth Court. Adult Probation Officer Susan Carroll and Detective Stimac testified on behalf of the State, and Dr. Smelko again testified on behalf of Talksabout. The court once more found the statutory criteria for transfer to Youth Court were not met and denied Talksabout's motion.

¶ 7 Ultimately, Talksabout agreed to a non-binding plea agreement under which he pleaded guilty to one count of sexual intercourse without consent. The agreement required that Talksabout admit to the facts of both incidents involving A.C. and D.P. The District Court sentenced Talksabout to Montana State Prison for fifty years, with ten years suspended. The court's sentence did not reflect that Talksabout was a criminally convicted youth. Talksabout appeals.

STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶ 8 We review for abuse of discretion a district court's decision whether to transfer to youth court a juvenile case charged in district court. State v. Dietsch , 2013 MT 245, ¶ 10, 371 Mont. 460, 308 P.3d 111. A court abuses its discretion if it acts arbitrarily without employment of conscientious judgment or exceeds the bounds of reason, resulting in substantial injustice. State v. Derbyshire , 2009 MT 27, ¶ 19, 349 Mont. 114, 201 P.3d 811. We review for clear error the specific findings of fact on which the district court relied in making its transfer decision. State v. Whiteman , 2005 MT 15, ¶ 10, 325 Mont. 358, 106 P.3d 543. A finding is clearly erroneous if it is not supported by substantial evidence, if the district court misapprehended the effect of the evidence, or if our review of the record convinces us that the district court made a mistake. Whiteman , ¶ 10. We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party when determining whether a district court's findings are supported by substantial credible evidence. Welu v. Twin Hearts Smiling Horses, Inc. , 2016 MT 347, ¶ 12, 386 Mont. 98, 386 P.3d 937. We review criminal sentences for legality, to determine whether they are within the parameters set by statute as a matter of law. Dietsch , ¶ 10.

DISCUSSION

¶ 9 1. Whether the District Court abused its discretion by denying Talksabout's requests to transfer the charges to Youth Court.

¶ 10 Section 41-5-206, MCA, authorizes the State to charge a youth directly in district court under certain circumstances. A county attorney may seek leave to file an information in district court if the youth was twelve years old or older at the time of the conduct and is alleged to have committed one of several enumerated offenses. Section 41-5-206(1), MCA. If, however, the youth was seventeen years old at the time of the alleged enumerated offense, the county attorney must petition for leave to file the information in district court. Section 41-5-206(2), MCA.

¶ 11 In either instance, once leave to file the information is granted, "the district court shall conduct a hearing to determine whether the matter must be transferred back to the youth court," unless the youth or the youth's counsel waives the hearing. Section 41-5-206(3), MCA.

The district court may transfer the case to youth court only if it finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, that:

(a) a youth court proceeding and disposition will serve the interests of community protection;
(b) the nature of the offense does not warrant prosecution in district court; and
(c) it would be in the best interests of the youth if the matter was prosecuted in youth court.

Section 41-5-206(3), MCA. Each of these factors must be met in order to transfer the case to youth court. Section 41-5-206(3), MCA. In analyzing these factors, a district court, "as factfinder[,] sits in the best position to weigh all of [the] evidence" and "resolve[ ] conflicting evidence before it." Dietsch , ¶¶ 15, 16. Generally, we will not overturn a district court's determinations regarding conflicting evidence. Dietsch , ¶ 16 ; accord Whiteman , ¶ 15 ("[I]t is within the domain of the trial court to resolve conflicts in the evidence based on its assessment of the demeanor and credibility of the witnesses before it, and this Court will not resolve conflicts on appeal.") (citation and internal quotes omitted).

I. Talksabout's first transfer request.

¶ 12 In considering Talksabout's motion on the first charge, the District Court reviewed the evidence in light of each factor prescribed by § 41-5-206(3), MCA. First, as to whether transferring the charge to Youth Court would serve the interests of community protection, the District Court noted that Probation Officer Callahan "explained that protecting the community is more challenging with older youths, and given his age, Talksabout cannot complete sex offender treatment before he turns 18 years-old." The court emphasized Probation Officer Callahan's testimony that unlike in district court, sex offender registration is not required in a Youth Court disposition. The court noted its concern that prior to the transfer hearing, "Talksabout absconded while released on his own recognizance, failed to appear for Court, and committed a new offense by shoplifting from a local department store." The court expressed further concern that Talksabout was under investigation for a separate sex offense involving a minor.

¶ 13 The court acknowledged that Talksabout's grandmother cared for and was committed to her grandson. But it opined that "Talksabout is not provided with much structure or discipline [at his grandmother's home], as evidenced by dropping out of school and allegedly committing the present offense while out of the house in the middle of the night without his grandmother's knowledge." Finally, the court noted its concern over Talksabout's "victim impact statements" from Dr. Smelko's report. The statements conveyed that Talksabout believed that he was the real victim in the situation, exhibiting a lack of empathy and accountability. After considering all of the evidence, the District Court concluded that transferring the case to Youth Court was not in the interests of community protection given "Talksabout's age, home environment,...

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