2021 MT 295

City of Missoula v. Sadiku

The Montana Incentives and Interventions Grid (MIIG) and the distinction between compliance and noncompliance violations in § 46‑18‑203, MCA, do not apply to revocations of misdemeanor suspended or deferred sentences.

The Municipal Court revoked Sadiku’s deferred sentence for violating an order of protection and imposed a six-month suspended sentence.

On appeal, Sadiku argued that, his violation was a “compliance violation,” and, therefore, the court should have exhausted MIIG procedures before revoking his deferred sentence.  Sadiku asked this Court to overrule City of Missoula v. Pope, 2021 MT 4, 402 Mont. 416, 478 P.3d 815, holding that the MIIG requirements did not apply to misdemeanor offenders.  Sadiku argued that, by its plain and unambiguous language, § 46‑18‑203, MCA, applies to “any offender.”

In Pope, the Court held that the MIIG guidelines apply only to DOC, which supervises only felony offenders.  The MIIG provisions in § 46‑18‑203, MCA, therefore, do not affect revocations of misdemeanor sentences.  Although § 46‑18‑203, MCA, divides violations of suspended or deferred sentences into “compliance” and “noncompliance” violations, the distinction is of no consequence to misdemeanor offenders.  The statute’s omission of misdemeanor revocation processes is confusing, but courts must treat misdemeanor violations as “noncompliance violations” and derive their authority to revoke misdemeanor sentences from § 46‑18‑203(7)(a)(iii), MCA.

Because the Municipal Court properly revoked the deferred sentence, the Court next considered whether the trial court abused its discretion.  To revoke a deferred sentence, the court must find that the defendant violated a condition of his sentence by a preponderance of the evidence.  Here, the victim testified that Sadiku drove near her work and braked suddenly in front of her.  Sadiku claimed that he was driving his son to school.  The court found that there were alternate routes available and found by a preponderance of the evidence that Sadiku violated the order of protection.  The Municipal Court did not abuse its discretion.

Points of Interest: revocation, MIIG

 2021 MT 293

State v. Abel

Trial courts are not necessarily required to advise defendants of their right to testify, nor make a record inquiry and determination in order to infer that a defendant’s waiver of the right to testify through counsel was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent.

The State charged Abel with partner or family member strangulation.  At trial, outside of the presence of the jury, the District Court twice addressed Abel’s counsel, with Abel present, and asked whether Abel intended to testify.  After an overnight recess and a conferral with Abel, defense counsel advised the court that Abel would not offer any witness testimony.  Abel was found guilty.

Abel appealed his subsequent judgment and sentence, asserting for the first time that the District Court had erred in accepting his counsel’s representation that he wished to waive his right to testify and preserve his right to remain silent.

The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the District Court had not committed plain error in accepting defense counsel’s representations.  The constitutional requirement that a waiver of the right to testify be knowing, voluntary, and intelligent does not necessarily require the trial court to explicitly advise defendants of their right to testify or make a record inquiry and determination as to whether the waiver was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent.  The Court found no record indication that Abel’s ability to understand his right to testify and the consequences of not testifying was impaired or that his attorney had failed to provide him with adequate counsel on the issue or otherwise improperly coerced or prevented him from exercising his right.

Points of Interest: 5th Amendment, plain error, waiver

2021 MT 292

Hathaway v. Zoot Enterprises, Inc.

As long as an employer provides a fired employee a copy of its internal grievance procedures, it has provided notice of those procedures for purposes of the WDEA.

Zoot fired Hathaway in 2019, providing him at that time with a policy handbook that contained Zoot’s internal grievance procedure. Hathaway sued for wrongful discharge. Hathaway also submitted an age discrimination claim to the Montana Human Rights Bureau, but the HRB dismissed the case. Afterwards, Hathaway asked the District Court for leave to add an age discrimination claim to his wrongful discharge case.

Zoot moved for summary judgment on the wrongful discharge count.  Hathaway responded that Zoot should have more forcefully notified him of the grievance process, and he argued he shouldn’t have to follow the process if it would only be another plea to the same managers who fired him.  The District Court granted summary judgment to Zoot, ruling that Hathaway had failed to first pursue Zoot’s internal grievance process as the WDEA requires.  The District Court also denied Hathaway leave to add an age discrimination claim, noting it would be futile considering the proceedings thus far.

On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment dismissing the wrongful discharge count.  It also affirmed the denial of Hathaway’s request to add an age discrimination claim to his District Court case; although the legal standards that rendered his potential claim futile would differ slightly under state and federal discrimination statutes, the presence of good cause for the firing, which Zoot had demonstrated in the wrongful discharge case, would defeat an age discrimination claim under either law.

Points of Interest: employment law, wrongful discharge, human rights

The official record of all Montana Supreme Court Opinions is maintained by the Clerk of the Montana Supreme Court:  https://courts.mt.gov/clerk/