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State of Montana v. E.M.R

January 8, 2013


APPEAL FROM: District Court of the First Judicial District, In and For the County of Lewis and Clark, Cause No. DJ 2011-15 Honorable Kathy Seeley, Presiding Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Beth Baker

Submitted on Briefs: November 14, 2012

Decided: January 8, 2013



Justice Beth Baker delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 After a four-day trial in August 2011, a Lewis and Clark County jury found that E.M.R., a youth under the age of eighteen, had committed five misdemeanor offenses of "dog at large," in violation of County Ordinance # 4-2006-13, and one felony offense of aggravated animal cruelty, in violation of § 45-8-217(2), MCA. E.M.R. appeals from the dispositional order entered by the First Judicial District Youth Court. We affirm in part, reverse in part and remand for further proceedings.

¶2 We address the following issues on appeal:

¶3 1. Did the Youth Court abuse its discretion when it instructed a deadlocked jury on the legislative purpose of the Youth Court Act by reading the jury § 41-5-102, MCA?

¶4 2. Did the Youth Court err by denying E.M.R.'s motion to dismiss the five "dog at large" offenses based on an erroneous statutory reference in the amended charging documents?


¶5 E.M.R. grew up in the Scratchgravel Hills near Helena, Montana, with her mother and father. E.M.R.'s mother was a hoarder who, in addition to collecting large amounts of "junk," collected animals, including numerous goats, dogs, horses, and cats. In November 2010, when E.M.R. was seventeen years old, her mother died. Although E.M.R. was living in Carter, Montana, at the time, her father told Sue Cecrle, an animal control officer for Lewis and Clark County, that the animals belonged to E.M.R. and that she was responsible for them. E.M.R. asked her father, who was in his mid-seventies, to feed and water the animals when she was out of town and her father testified that he did so "twice a day every day."

¶6 Despite that arrangement, neighbors grew concerned about the welfare of E.M.R.'s animals and they reported those concerns to law enforcement. Cecrle responded by visiting the property and speaking with E.M.R.'s father about either taking better care of the animals or finding them new homes. E.M.R. and her father agreed to surrender seven dogs and four goats and to work on finding suitable homes for many of the remaining animals.

¶7 Neighbors continued to voice their concerns to animal control that E.M.R.'s father physically was not able to feed and water the remaining animals, especially when the weather turned cold and icy. In December of 2010, Cecrle returned to the property with a veterinarian to evaluate the condition of the horses. Cecrle and the veterinarian informed E.M.R. that she needed to keep water and hay in front of the horses at all times, de-worm them and trim their hooves within the week. E.M.R. failed to trim the horses' hooves; instead, she decided to give away many of the animals. In late December, Cecrle verified that the only animals E.M.R. still possessed were four horses and various dogs.

¶8 In February 2011, Cecrle again visited the property in response to reports that E.M.R. had acquired additional animals. She viewed at least five new horses before E.M.R. asked Cecrle to leave unless she had a warrant. That next month, Cecrle responded to complaints that E.M.R.'s newly-acquired puppies were running freely around the neighborhood. Cecrle impounded four puppies and took them to the humane society and E.M.R. claimed them the next day. One week later, another one of E.M.R.'s puppies escaped, was hit by a car, and suffered a broken leg.

ΒΆ9 In response to continued complaints about escaped dogs and malnourished horses, Cecrle obtained and executed a search warrant on the property in mid-March. She and other officers found several recently-born puppies and numerous dogs, some of which were caged or chained without access to food or water. They also found several dogs that had died-four dogs were found decomposing in a pile of sawdust and another dog, whose existence apparently was unknown to E.M.R. or her father, was found suffocated by a chain that was deeply embedded into the dog's neck. Cecrle also examined the ten horses found on the property. She later testified that they "weren't in bad condition" but were "a ...

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