State v. Thibeault

Decision Date06 July 2021
Docket NumberDA 19-0411
Citation490 P.3d 105,2021 MT 162
CourtMontana Supreme Court
Parties STATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Terence James THIBEAULT, Defendant and Appellant.

For Appellant: Shannon Sweeney, Attorney at Law, Anaconda, Montana

For Appellee: Austin Knudsen, Montana Attorney General, Bree Gee, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Scott D. Twito, Yellowstone County Attorney, Ed Zink, Deputy Chief County Attorney, Billings, Montana

Justice Dirk Sandefur delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Terence J. Thibeault appeals the May 2019 judgment of the Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone County, affirming his January 2019 judgment of conviction in Yellowstone County Justice Court on the offense of criminal possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor in violation of § 45-10-103, MCA. We address the following restated issue:

Whether the Justice Court illegally imposed a 10-day jail term as a condition of a deferred imposition of sentence?

We affirm.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

¶2 In the late evening of July 14, 2018, a Montana Highway Patrol Trooper responded to a reckless driving report on Interstate-90 near the Interstate-94 interchange in the City of Billings, Montana. The citizen report included a vehicle description, license plate number, and reported that the driver was speeding, nearly lost control, and had used the authorized-vehicles-only turnaround. The responding Trooper soon located a vehicle matching the reported description and plate number traveling westbound on I-94. Upon stopping the vehicle, the Trooper identified the driver as 19-year-old Thibeault, who stated that he and his passenger, the registered owner of the vehicle, were returning from an overnight trip to Denver, Colorado, where they had visited a friend. Based on circumstantial suspicion of possible drug activity, the Trooper asked for and obtained consent to search the vehicle.1 The subsequent search revealed a bag in the trunk containing a pipe used for smoking marijuana concentrate (i.e. , hash oil) and a small, commercially-labelled medical marijuana receptacle containing an apparent marijuana product. The Trooper issued Thibeault a traffic violation warning, but cited him into Yellowstone County Justice Court for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. He disregarded the citation, however, and failed to appear as directed.

¶3 When Thibeault later appeared on an unrelated criminal matter in August 2018, the Justice Court took notice of the prior matter and conducted an initial appearance and arraignment on the paraphernalia charge. Asked why he failed to comply with the earlier notice to appear, Thibeault explained that he simply "forgot" about it. At the conclusion of the arraignment, the Justice Court specifically warned Thibeault that he would be subject to arrest and jail-time if he did not timely appear at his upcoming Omnibus Hearing. Despite the warning, Thibeault failed to appear for the Omnibus Hearing and a bench warrant issued for his arrest.

¶4 On January 29, 2019, however, Thibeault appeared with counsel for his previously scheduled bench trial. After quashing the bench warrant and proceeding with trial, the Justice Court found him guilty of criminal possession of drug paraphernalia, as charged. At sentencing, the State acknowledged that it was Thibeault's first paraphernalia conviction and that, pursuant to § 45-10-103, MCA, a presumption of entitlement to a deferred imposition of sentence applied. Concurring, the Justice Court deferred imposition of sentence for a period of six months, but subject to the conditions that Thibeault pay a $350 fine, pay various statutory surcharges, complete 20 hours of community service, and serve 10 days in the county jail. The court further ordered, however, that he could avoid the imposed fine and jail-time if he timely completed his community service obligation, and worked for five days in the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Labor Detail program, within 60 days of sentencing. Thibeault did not object to any aspect of the imposed sentence or conditions of deferral.

¶5 On appeal to district court, however, he asserted that the jail-time condition was an illegal condition of a deferred sentence in violation of § 45-10-103, MCA (presumption of entitlement to deferred sentence). The District Court affirmed on the stated ground that the jail-time condition was a facially legal probation condition, expressly authorized as a condition of a deferred sentence by § 46-18-201(4)(b), MCA. Thibeault timely appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶6 On appeal from a justice court of record, district courts function as intermediate appellate courts with review confined to the record and questions of law. Sections 3-5-303 and 3-10-115(1), MCA ; Stanley v. Lemire , 2006 MT 304, ¶¶ 24-25, 334 Mont. 489, 148 P.3d 643.2 District courts accordingly review justice court of record findings of fact only for clear error, conclusions and applications of law de novo for correctness, and discretionary rulings for an abuse of discretion. Stanley , ¶ 25. On subsequent appeal from district court to this Court, we independently review the justice court findings of fact, conclusions and applications of law, and discretionary rulings under the same standards as if directly appealed here. Stanley , ¶ 26.

¶7 Criminal sentences eligible for statutory sentence review are subject to review on direct appeal only for legality, i.e. , whether the court sentenced the defendant in accordance with governing statutory and constitutional parameters and requirements. State v. Herman , 2008 MT 187, ¶ 11, 343 Mont. 494, 188 P.3d 978 ; State v. Ariegwe , 2007 MT 204, ¶ 174, 338 Mont. 442, 167 P.3d 815 ; State v. Hicks , 2006 MT 71, ¶ 41, 331 Mont. 471, 133 P.3d 206 ; State v. Herd , 2004 MT 85, ¶ 22, 320 Mont. 490, 87 P.3d 1017 ; State v. Montoya , 1999 MT 180, ¶ 15, 295 Mont. 288, 983 P.2d 937. See also State v. Greeson , 2007 MT 23, ¶¶ 6-10, 336 Mont. 1, 152 P.3d 695 (in re constitutionality of probationary search condition—citing State v. Moody , 2006 MT 305, 334 Mont. 517, 148 P.3d 662 ).3 In contrast, sentences not subject to sentence review are subject to review on direct appeal both for threshold legality and, to the extent discretionary, an abuse of discretion. State v. Ashby , 2008 MT 83, ¶ 8, 342 Mont. 187, 179 P.3d 1164 ; Herd , ¶¶ 22-23. Accord City of Kalispell v. Salsgiver , 2019 MT 126, ¶ 12, 396 Mont. 57, 443 P.3d 504. As distinct from the predicate sentence to which they pertain, discretionary conditions of deferred and suspended sentences are subject to review both for threshold legality and an abuse of discretion, regardless of eligibility for sentence review. State v. Robertson , 2015 MT 266, ¶ 7, 381 Mont. 75, 364 P.3d 580 ; Ashby , ¶ 9.

DISCUSSION

¶8 Whether the Justice Court illegally imposed a 10-day jail term as a condition of a deferred imposition of sentence?

¶9 As a general rule, issues not preserved by contemporaneous objection are waived, and therefore not subject to review on subsequent appeal. Section 46-20-104(2), MCA ; State v. Parkhill , 2018 MT 69, ¶ 16, 391 Mont. 114, 414 P.3d 1244 ; Ashby , ¶ 22 ; State v. Kotwicki , 2007 MT 17, ¶¶ 8 and 22, 335 Mont. 344, 151 P.3d 892. However, under our narrow sentence-specific exception to the contemporaneous objection/waiver rule first recognized in State v. Lenihan , 184 Mont. 338, 342-43, 602 P.2d 997, 999-1000 (1979), unpreserved assertions of error that a particular sentence or sentencing condition was either facially illegal (i.e. , of a type or character not authorized by statute or otherwise in excess of the statutorily authorized range or limit for that type of sentence or condition), or facially legal but authorized by a facially unconstitutional statute, are subject to review for the first time on appeal. State v. Coleman , 2018 MT 290, ¶¶ 7-11, 393 Mont. 375, 431 P.3d 26 (analyzing general objection/waiver rule, Lenihan exception, and inapplicability of Lenihan exception to unpreserved as-applied constitutional sentencing challenges); Parkhill , ¶ 16 ( Lenihan exception inapplicable to unpreserved as-applied constitutional challenge to no-contact condition of probation on PFMA sentence); State v. Strong , 2009 MT 65, ¶¶ 7-16, 349 Mont. 417, 203 P.3d 848 (applying Lenihan exception to facial equal protection challenge of sentencing statute but not as-applied challenge); Kotwicki , ¶¶ 6-22 ( Lenihan exception not applicable to unpreserved statutory non-compliance and as-applied due process challenge that court illegally imposed statutorily authorized fine without complying with statutory requirement for consideration/determination in re ability to pay); State v. Garrymore , 2006 MT 245, ¶¶ 9-15, 17, and 35, 334 Mont. 1, 145 P.3d 946 (applying Lenihan exception to unpreserved objection that statutorily authorized parole restriction violated § 46-1-401, MCA, and related federal and state constitutional rights); Lenihan , 184 Mont. at 343, 602 P.2d at 1000 (unpreserved objection to sentence reviewable on appeal upon allegation that sentence "is illegal or exceeds statutory mandates"). Thibeault asserts that the imposition of a 10-day jail term as a condition of his deferred imposition of sentence is facially illegal in contravention of § 45-10-103, MCA. We thus review his unpreserved assertion of error under the Lenihan exception.

¶10 The sentencing authority of a criminal court derives solely from and is constrained by statutory law. State v. Nelson , 1998 MT 227, ¶ 24, 291 Mont. 15, 966 P.2d 133. Courts accordingly have no authority to impose a sentence or sentencing provision not authorized by statute. Hicks , ¶ 41 (citing State v. Ruiz , 2005 MT 117, ¶ 12, 327 Mont. 109, 112 P.3d 1001 ); Nelson , ¶ 24 ; State v. Hatfield , 256 Mont. 340, 346, 846 P.2d 1025, 1029 (1993). Moreover, courts may exercise granted sentencing authority only to the extent and in the manner authorized by statute. Lenih...

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  • State v. Soria
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    ...not authorized by statute ...)" or if the sentence was "facially legal but authorized by a facially unconstitutional statute." State v. Thibeault , 2021 MT 162, ¶ 9, 404 Mont. 476, 490 P.3d 105 (citing State v. Lenihan , 184 Mont. 338, 342-43, 602 P.2d 997, 999-1000 (1979) ) (other citation......
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    ...on cases decided under prior statutory schemes and now recognize that a deferred imposition of sentence is in fact a sentence. State v. Thibeault , 2021 MT 162, ¶ 21 n.16, 404 Mont. 476, 490 P.3d 105. ¶18 Here, Kortan was given a deferred sentence on April 8, 2008. On December 19, 2008, in ......
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