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Thornton v. Hoffman

Supreme Court of Montana

July 30, 2013

BRUCE ALLEN THORNTON, Petitioner,
v.
CHRIS HOFFMAN, Sheriff of Ravalli County, and MIKE BATISTA, Director, Montana Department of Corrections, Respondents,

ORDER

Bruce Allen Thornton has petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus on grounds that a legally invalid sentence has been imposed upon him for his conviction of aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. Specifically, Thornton maintains the requirement that he serve the first 180 days of his 20-year sentence for aggravated assault (with 15 years suspended) in the Ravalli County Detention Center (RCDC) is invalid. The Office of the Montana Attorney General has filed a response to the petition for writ of habeas corpus.

In September of 2012, Thornton pled guilty in Ravalli County District Court to aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. On December 3, 2012, he was sentenced to 20 years in Department of Corrections' (DOC) custody with 15 years suspended for aggravated assault (Count 1), with the additional restriction that he serve the first 180 days of that sentence in the RCDC. On the assault with a weapon conviction (Count 2), Thornton was sentenced to DOC custody for a consecutive 20-year period, with all 20 years suspended and a condition that he serve a consecutive 180 days in the RCDC.

Thornton contends the requirement that he serve his first 180 days on Count 1 in the RCDC is illegal because he was sentenced under § 46-18-201(3)(a)(iv)(A), MCA, which does not include a provision allowing for imposition of jail time. As a result, he argued that the District Court's order that he serve a total of 360 days in the RCDC is invalid. He does not, however, challenge the condition that he serve 180 days in jail as a condition of his suspended sentence on Count 2.

Section 46-18-201, MCA, provides, in relevant part:

Sentences that may be imposed.

(2) Whenever a person has been found guilty of an offense upon a verdict of guilty or a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, a sentencing judge may suspend execution of sentence, except as otherwise specifically provided by statute, for a period up to the maximum sentence allowed or for a period of 6 months, whichever is greater, for each particular offense.
(3)(a) Whenever a person has been found guilty of an offense upon a verdict of guilty or a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, a sentencing judge may impose a sentence that may include:
(iii) a term of incarceration, as provided in Title 45 for the offense, at a county detention center or at a state prison to be designated by the department of corrections;
(iv) commitment of:
(A) an offender ... to the department of corrections, with a recommendation for placement in an appropriate correctional facility or program; however, all but the first 5 years of the commitment to the department of corrections must be suspended, ....
(4) When deferring imposition of sentence or suspending all or a portion of execution of sentence, the sentencing judge may impose upon the offender any reasonable restrictions or conditions during the period of the deferred imposition or suspension of sentence. Reasonable restrictions or conditions imposed under subsection (l)(a) or (2) may include but are not limited to:
(b) incarceration in a detention center not exceeding 180 days[.]

The District Court did not cite subsection (3)(a)(iv)(A), MCA, as authority for the sentence it imposed for Count 1. It appears the court had the authority to impose the 20-year sentence with 15 years suspended under subsection (2) above. We find no basis for the argument asserted by Thornton.

At any rate, as the State points out, Thornton already has served the first 180 days of his sentence. As a result, we conclude Thornton's claim has been rendered moot. "A question is moot when the court cannot grant effective relief" Sebastian v. Mahoney, 2001 MT 88, ¶ 7, 305 Mont. 158, 25 P.3d 163.

IT IS ORDERED that Thornton's petition for writ of habeas corpus is DENIED and DISMISSED.


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