APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Gallatin, Cause No. DC 11-152A Honorable Holly Brown, Presiding Judge
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Patricia O. Cotter
Submitted on Briefs: December 4, 2012
Decided: February 12, 2013
Justice Patricia O. Cotter delivered the Opinion of the Court.
¶1 Mark Andrew Haldane (Haldane) was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) following a jury trial in the City of Bozeman Municipal Court. He appealed to the District Court. Haldane appeals from an order of Montana's Eighteenth Judicial District Court, Gallatin County, affirming the Municipal Court's denial of Haldane's motion to suppress that had challenged the particularized suspicion to stop Haldane based on the obstruction of a license plate. Haldane also asserts that his counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to elicit certain testimony from the officers at trial and not renewing the motion to suppress once those facts were elicited. Lastly, Haldane challenges his sentence on the grounds that it violated his due process rights because it was based on his indigency. We affirm the District Court's denial of Haldane's motion to dismiss, reject his ineffective assistance of counsel arguments, vacate his sentence on due process grounds, and remand for entry of a new sentence that comports with due process concerns.
¶2 Haldane raises the following three issues on appeal:
¶3 1. Was Haldane's constitutional right to be free from unreasonable seizure violated when officers stopped his car based on an obstruction of his temporary registration permit by snow and a trailer hitch?
¶4 2. Did Haldane's counsel render ineffective assistance by failing to properly investigate and elicit testimony at the suppression hearing that the officers could in fact read the temporary permit, and later for failing to renew the motion to suppress once the officer testified at trial that he could read the permit?
¶5 3. Did Haldane's sentence violate due process because it was based on indigency?
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
¶6 On January 12, 2011, City of Bozeman police officers Lindsay Shepherd and Hal Richardson executed a traffic stop of a car driven by Haldane. Officer Richardson was a field training officer and was assigned to supervise Officer Shepherd, who was in the second phase of field training at the time of the stop. Officer Shepherd was driving and Officer Richardson was in the passenger seat of the patrol car. The officers encountered Haldane's vehicle as it was stopped at a red light at the intersection of 23rd Street and Main Street in Bozeman, Montana. When the officers pulled up behind Haldane's vehicle, they noticed that its license plate was obstructed by snow and a trailer hitch. The officers observed that snow had built up at the base of the license plate well, which prevented the officers from viewing the digits on Haldane's temporary license plate. It was not actively snowing and had not snowed for at least a day prior to the traffic stop.
¶7 Police officers use the license plate number of a vehicle to check its registration using the Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) in their patrol vehicles. The MDT allows officers to connect to the dispatch center. Running license plate numbers through the MDT provides officers with information about the vehicle and its owner, and is commonly used to verify whether a vehicle's registration is current.
¶8 Haldane was driving a black Ford Explorer at the time of the stop. Haldane had purchased the vehicle two days prior to the stop from a local auto dealer. The auto dealer provided Haldane with a temporary registration and affixed a temporary plate. The ball trailer hitch was attached to the vehicle at the time of purchase. Haldane claims that he was unaware that his temporary plate was obstructed in any way.
¶9 Officer Shepherd initiated the traffic stop as Haldane turned onto St. Estephe Drive. Officer Shepherd approached the vehicle and asked Haldane for his driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. Haldane was only able to produce his driver's license. Officer Richardson noticed that Haldane was "fervently" smoking a cigarette and had red, bloodshot eyes. Both officers returned to the patrol car to verify Haldane's license. When the officers re-approached Haldane's vehicle to return his license, Officer Richardson asked Haldane how many drinks he had that night. According to Officer Richardson, Haldane slurred and responded, "two to three beers." Officer Richardson conducted field sobriety tests and noted multiple signs of impairment during the maneuvers, including Haldane's inability to properly recite the alphabet. Haldane refused to submit to a breathalyzer test and became belligerent.
¶10 Haldane was arrested and charged with the following three offenses: (1) DUI in violation of § 61-8-401, MCA; (2) Driving with an Obstructed Plate in violation of § 61-3-301, MCA; and (3) Operating a Motor Vehicle without Liability Insurance in violation of § 61-6-301, MCA. On May 5, 2011, Haldane filed a motion in Municipal Court to suppress evidence based on a lack of particularized suspicion to conduct the investigative stop. On May 26, 2011, the Municipal Court held a hearing on the motion to suppress. Officers Shepherd and Richardson testified at the hearing. Neither officer was able to recall how Haldane's registration was verified.
¶11 Following the evidentiary hearing, the Municipal Court issued an order on June 1, 2011, denying Haldane's motion to suppress. On June 21, 2011, Haldane was found guilty of DUI, first offense, in violation of § 61-8-401, MCA, following a jury trial. The State chose not to pursue the obstructed plates and no insurance charges against Haldane. At trial, both officers testified that the license plate was obstructed by snow and the ball hitch. Officer Richardson recalled that once he approached the vehicle and changed his vantage point, he was able to read the numbers on the license plate.
¶12 On June 29, 2011, the Municipal Court sentenced Haldane for the DUI offense. Originally, the Municipal Court discussed sentencing Haldane to six months in the Gallatin County Detention Center with all but three days suspended, ordering fines totaling $935, and imposing other sentencing conditions. Later in the sentencing hearing, the length of Haldane's suspended sentence was doubled to one year to allow Haldane more time to make the monthly payments. The Municipal Court instituted a payment plan for the fines and fees that allowed Haldane to pay $100 per month.
¶13 Haldane appealed his conviction to the District Court. Specifically, Haldane challenged the Municipal Court's denial of his motion to suppress, denial of his motion for a mistrial for wrongfully impaneling the jury, and decision to sustain the State's objection to the defense's attempt to impeach Officer Richardson on cross-examination. The District Court affirmed the Municipal Court on all grounds. Of relevance here, the District Court held that the testimony of the officers was credible and sufficient to support the finding of particularized suspicion for the stop.
¶14 Haldane appeals the District Court's order affirming the Municipal Court's rulings and the jury's verdict. Haldane also raises an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, and ...