State v. Ailer

State v. Ailer, 2018 MT 18 (Feb. 6, 2018) (McGrath, C.J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred in denying Ailer’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim; (2) whether evidence of Ailer’s wages being garnished is a “bad act” and inadmissible character evidence; and (3) whether substantial evidence supported the district court’s restitution order.

Short Answer: (1) No; (2) no; and (3) yes.


Facts: A few weeks after being released to full-duty employment after a car accident, Matthew Ailer filed a work comp claim, reporting that a heavy floor burnisher fell on him as he was lifting it into his work truck. A coworker, Russell, and Ailer’s fiancée were with Ailer when the accident occurred, and took him to the hospital. Ailer complained of extreme pain in the months following. The State Fund accepted Ailer’s claim.

In March 2012, Russell told his employer that Ailer’s accident with the burnisher was staged. The State Fund investigated, and learned that Ailer’s complaints did not align with any physical symptoms. All doctors agreed that Ailer showed no signs of trauma or injury.

The state charged Ailer with felony theft in March 2014. In April 2015, Ailer moved in limine to preclude evidence of wage garnishment. The district court denied the motion, finding it was admissible to prove motive, and that the prejudicial effect did not outweigh the probative value. 

Procedural Posture & Holding: In December 2015, a jury convicted Ailer of theft by common scheme. The district court deferred sentencing for six years, found the loss incurred by the State Fund was $64,025.34, and after adding statutory and administrative fees, ordered Ailer to pay restitution in the amount of $70,680.34. Ailer appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) Ailer alleges his trial counsel was ineffective for three reasons. The Court holds that Ailer fails to prove that any of the three alleged deficiencies prejudiced him, thereby failing the second prong of the Strickland test.

(2) Ailer’s wage garnishment was probative in establishing his motive to stage the burnisher incident and did not unfairly prejudice Ailer. The Court holds that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it allowed the state to introduce evidence of Ailer’s wage garnishment.

(3) If a victim suffers a pecuniary loss as a result of a criminal offense, the sentencing court must order the offender to pay restitution. MCA § 46-18-201(5). Substantial evidence supported the restitution award.