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State v. Santiago

State v. Santiago, 2018 MT 13 (Jan. 30, 2018) (McKinnon, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court abused its discretion by giving the deadlocked jury an Allen instruction.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: Santiago was charged with sexual intercourse without consent, plead not guilty, and went to trial. On the last day of trial, after a few hours of deliberations, the jury sent the judge a note saying it was deadlocked 11-1. The state suggested the court give the jury an Allen instruction, otherwise known as a dynamite instruction, which the Montana Supreme Court approved in Norquay. Santiago objected on the grounds that the vote was 11-1, arguing that the Allen instruction would put an extreme undue burden on the one juror.…

Deschner v. State, Dept. of Highways

Deschner v. State, Dept. of Highways, 2017 MT 37 (Feb. 28, 2017) (Shea, J.) (7-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court properly instructed the jury on inverse condemnation.

Short Answer: Yes.


Facts: On October 9, 2010, a sandstone slab fell from the Rims that weighed roughly two million pounds and measured approximately sixty feet long, thirty feet wide, and eight feet deep. It fell on Deschner and Lodge’s home and rendered it uninhabitable.

At trial, Deschner and Lodge contended that the State’s construction and placement of Highway 3 and Culvert 239 caused an unnatural increase in the amount of water that ran off the highway onto the rockfall site, ultimately causing the slab to fall onto their home. Deschner and Lodge called two experts who concluded that Culvert 239 increased the amount of water at the fall site, causing the slab to fall.…

State v. Charlo-Whitworth

State v. Charlo-Whitworth, 2016 MT 157 (June 28, 2016) (McGrath, C.J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court erred in not giving the defendant’s proposed jury instruction on accomplice liability.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: Riley Charlo-Whitworth and Alexis Paul lived together with Paul’s 2-year-old child, MP. One evening in January 2013, Whitworth drove Paul to work around 7 pm, then returned home with MP. He put MP to bed around 8:30 pm, but the child awoke crying around 10 pm. Whitworth grew frustrated and shoved the child into a wall, spanked him and hit him. Because MP was bleeding, Whitworth gave him a bath.…

Petaja v. Montana Public Employees’ Association (MPEA)

Petaja v. Montana Public Employees’ Association (MPEA), 2016 MT 143 (June 8, 2016) (Rice, J.; McGrath, C.J., concurring) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether substantial evidence supported the jury verdict finding MPEA breached its duty of fair representation; (2) whether the jury verdict was contrary to the instructions and the law; (3) whether Petaja’s claim was barred by res judicata; and (4) whether the district court had authority to award attorney fees. 

Short Answer: (1) Yes; (2) no; (3) this claim was waived for purposes of appellate review; and (4) no.


Facts: Petaja was terminated from her position with Lewis and Clark County as the clinic coordinator of the WIC program. The county claimed Petaja was terminated due to reorganization; she claims she was terminated because of her age, 59.…

State v. Stewart

State v. Stewart, 2016 MT 1 (Jan. 5, 2016) (Baker, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court erred when it denied Stewart’s request to instruct the jury on misdemeanor assault as a lesser-included offense of attempted deliberate homicide.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: After a traffic stop for speeding, Stewart took off and was pursued by officers from the Highway Patrol, the Cascade County Sheriff’s Department, and the Judith Basin County Sheriff’s Department. He threw several pipe bombs out the window toward the pursuers. Eventually, his tires shredded from a spike strip, he got out of the car with a handgun and ran until he was apprehended. No one fired any shots. Stewart told the officers he did not mean to hurt anyone.…

State v. Root

State v. Root, 2015 MT 310 (Oct. 27, 2015) (McGrath, C.J.; Cotter, J., dissenting) (4-3, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether Root’s attorney was ineffective for not requesting an accomplice instruction; and (2) whether the district court erred in denying Root’s motion to dismiss based on the prosecution’s failure to disclose a video statement of a witness.

Short Answer: (1) No; and (2) no, with Justices Cotter, McKinnon, and Shea dissenting on (2).


Facts: Lawrence Lee was stabbed in the arm and neck while in his pickup truck with Root and juvenile S.R. Lee and S.R. testified that Root stabbed Lee, after which S.R. jumped out of the truck and Lee pushed Root out of the truck. S.R. testified that after Lee left, S.R.…

State v. Williams

State v. Williams, 2015 MT 247 (Aug. 18, 2015) (Rice, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court committed plain error by failing to instruct the jury that state had to prove Williams acted with purpose to deprive; and (2) whether Williams’ counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to object to the erroneous jury instruction.

Short Answer: (1) The Court declines to review this issue for plain error; and (2) No.


Facts: TW’s parents died, leaving him an orphan at 13. His paternal uncle, Carl, had custody under TW’s father’s will, but as unable to care for TW. Carl deferred to his sister, Debra, who was TW’s guardian for almost a year until she was seriously injured in a car accident.…

Anderson v. BNSF Railway

Anderson v. BNSF Railway, 2015 MT 240 (Aug. 12, 2015) (Shea, J.; Wheat, J., concurring; McKinnon, J., dissenting) (6-1, rev’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred in allowing the statute of limitations to be decided as a fact question; (1.a) whether the continuing tort doctrine applies to cumulative trauma injuries under FELA; (1.b) whether an employee can recover under FELA for aggravation of a time-barred injury; (1.c) whether non-disabling aches and pains constitute an injury under FELA; and (2) whether counsel for BNSF made improper comments that deprived Anderson of a fair trial.

Short Answer: (1) No; (1.a) no; (1.b) yes; (1.c) no; and (2) yes.

Reversed and remanded for new trial

Facts: Robert Anderson worked for BNSF for more 30 years, primarily as a carman inspecting and repairing railroad cars in Havre.…

Spotted Horse v. BNSF R.R. Co.

Spotted Horse v. BNSF R.R. Co., 2015 MT 148 (May 29, 2015) (Cotter, J.; Wheat, J., concurring; McKinnon, J., dissenting) (6-1, rev’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court abused its discretion in declining to grant plaintiff’s motion for default judgment based on spoliation of evidence; and (2) whether the district court abused its discretion when instructing the jury as to BNSF’s duty of care.

Short Answer: (1) No, but the sanction it imposed was an abuse of discretion; and (2) yes.

Reversed and remanded for a new trial

Facts: Mark Spotted Horse, a BNSF Railway machinist, claimed that he suffered a disabling injury when his co-worker inadvertently lowered a locomotive engine compartment hatch in his head. Spotted Horse reported the incident and was immediately taken to the hospital.…

State v. Carnes

State v. Carnes, 2015 MT 101 (April 14, 2015) (Rice, J.; McKinnon, J., dissenting) (5-2, rev’d)

Issue: Whether the district court erred by failing to instruct the jury that the state was required to prove mental state for every element of the offense.

Short Answer: Yes.

Reversed & remanded

Facts: After Carnes and his girlfriend had an argument, Carnes packed and left the house. While he was outside, two deputies arrived in response to a domestic disturbance call from the residence. They did not use emergency lights, and pursuant to standard procedure, parked on the street and approached with flashlights. They were dressed in uniform. Without identifying themselves, they asked Carnes to step back from a truck that was running.…