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. Her son, Jared Williams, assumed custodial care of TW in September 2009, and TW began living with Williams, his wife, and two daughters.

During the time Williams was his guardian and conservator, TW received $879/month in Social Security. Williams calculated his household expenses as $2,100/month, attributed 1/3 of the expenses to TW, and withdrew $700/month from TW’s Social Security account.

TW also inherited a share of his maternal grandmother’s estate. Williams requested and received interim distributions totaling $7,400. The final distribution from the estate of $19,511.30 was made in July 2010, from which Williams paid himself $4,500 to repair vehicles TW had supposedly damaged. Over the next month, Williams made 66 withdrawals from the account, leaving a balance at the end of September of $648. A month later, the balance was $4.61.

Carl’s wife called the police to report her concern about the misuse of TW’s funds. After investigating, Williams was charged with felony theft.

Procedural Posture & Holding: At trial, Williams’ counsel did not object to the state’s proposed jury instructions. A jury found Williams guilty, and the district court sentenced him as a persistent felony offender to 2years at MSP, 15 suspended, and restitution in the amount of $25,000. Williams appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) The proffered instruction on theft did not include a fourth element used in the model instruction, “with the purpose of depriving the owner of property.” Williams argues the instruction reduced the state’s burden of proof in violation of his right to due process. Because he did not object, he asks the Court to conduct plain error review, which the Court declines to do.

(2) Williams argues his counsel’s assistance was ineffective because he failed to object to the jury instructions given by the court. Applying Strickland, the Court finds the claim fails on the second prong.