State v. Thompson

State v. Thompson, 2015 MT 279 (Sept. 18, 2015) (McKinnon, J.; Wheat, J., dissenting) (4-1, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the justice court had good cause to conduct Thompson’s trial after the six-month deadline provided by statute.

Short Answer: Yes.


Facts: The state charged Thompson with DUI on Oct. 11, 2011, and that same day he pled not guilty in justice court. He appeared with counsel at the omnibus hearing Dec. 27, 2011, and requested a jury trial. The justice court set trial for March 22, 2012, with a pretrial conference March 16, 2012. The notice stated the defendant was required to personally attend the pretrial conference, and if he failed to do so he would be deemed to have waived his right to a jury trial, and jus trial date would be vacated and reset for a bench trial at the next available time.

Thompson’s counsel appeared at the pretrial conference but Thompson did not. The justice court vacated the trial date and reset the case for a bench trial April 30, 2012.

Thompson moved to dismiss on May 1, 2012, arguing his trial would be held beyond the six-month deadline imposed by § 46-13-401(2), MCA. The justice court denied the motion on the basis of Thompson’s absence at the pretrial conference, which it found established good cause for the delay.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Thompson pled guilty to DUI and was sentenced to six months, with all but 24 hours suspended. He reserved his right to appeal the denial of his motion to dismiss, and appealed to the district court, which affirmed. Thompson appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms. 

Reasoning: The statute provides that the court shall dismiss a misdemeanor charge if it has not brought to trial within six months, and was not postponed on the defendant’s motion. § 46-13-401(2), MCA. Good cause depends on the totality of the facts and circumstances. The facts here are indistinguishable from State v. Luke, 2014 MT 22, leading Thompson to request that the Court overrule it. The Court declines to do so.

Justice Wheat’s Dissent: Justice Wheat dissents, as he did in State v. Luke, on the basis that a defendant’s passive mistakes or omissions do not constitute good cause. Thompson’s failure to appear is a technicality that did not delay process, and was not a postponement “upon the defendant’s motion.” § 46-13-401(2), MCA. Justice Wheat does not believe it is proper to take away a defendant’s right to a jury trial based upon his failure to personally appear when his counsel is present and can make final trial preparations.