Chyatte v. State

Chyatte v. State, 2015 MT 343 (Dec. 15, 2015) (Rice, J.) (5-0, aff’d & rev’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred in holding that Chyatte’s trial-related claims were procedurally barred; (2) whether the district court erred by denying Chyatte’s ineffective assistance of counsel claims.

Short Answer: (1) No, and (2) no except for one claim, for which the record is insufficient.

Affirmed and reversed and remanded on one issue

Facts: In September 2011, Chyatte was charged with felony assault with a weapon for a stabbing in Missoula. More than a month before the omnibus hearing, the state filed of its intent to seek increased punishment under the persistent felony offender statute. Trial was set for August 15, 2012. On June 14, 2012, Chyatte’s counsel filed a motion to dismiss the information on the basis of no probable case, as the victim identified another person as the assailant at a photographic lineup. The district court denied the motion, concluding the victim’s misidentification was a fact to be weighed by the jury.

Shortly after trial began, Chyatte moved for and was granted a mistrial. Trial was rescheduled for late August. Chyatte requested to represent himself, and the court held a hearing on that issue after which it granted his request. Chyatte’s counsel’s was available on standby. Following trial Chyatte was convicted. He obtained counsel for sentencing and an appeal.

The district court heard testimony at sentencing regarding Chyatte’s competency to represent himself, and concluded he intelligently waived his right to counsel and was competent to represent himself. He designated Chyatte a PFO and sentenced him to 20 years with 10 years suspended. Chyatte appealed, arguing the district court erred by denying his motion in limine and his motion to excuse a juror for cause, and by determining his waiver of counsel was knowing and intelligent, and this Court affirmed.

Procedural Posture & Holding: In October 2014, Chyatte petitioned for postconviction relief, raising four trial-related rulings and several ineffective assistance of counsel claims. The district court dismissed the petition without ordering a response or conducting a hearing, concluding the trial-related claims were procedurally barred and the ineffective assistance of counsel claims were without merit. Chyatte appeals and the Supreme Court affirms in part and reverses in part. 

Reasoning: (1) Claims that could reasonably have been raised on direct appeal are procedurally barred from being raised in a petition for postconviction relief. All of Chyatte’s trial-related claims could and should have been raised on direct appeal.

(2) Chyatte argues ineffective assistance on the basis that he rejected a plea agreement after his attorney advised him he could not be convicted because the victim misidentified him at the lineup, and because his attorney incorrectly advised him he could not be sentenced as a PFO. The Court affirms the dismissal on the basis of the victim misidentification but determines it cannot resolved Chyatte’s claim regarding incorrect advice regarding PFO designation. A response from the state or a hearing is necessary to create a record sufficient to resolve this issue, as the state concedes, and the Court remands on this sole issue.