Argued and Submitted: October 29, 2014
APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Gallatin, Cause No. DC 11-44B Honorable Mike Salvagni, Presiding Judge
For Appellant: Wade Zolynski, Chief Appellate Defender, Gregory Hood (argued), Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana
For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Tammy A. Hinderman (argued), Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana
Marty Lambert, Gallatin County Attorney, Eric Kitzmiller, Deputy County Attorney, Bozeman, Montana
Mike McGrath, Chief Justice
¶1 Appellant Mark White (White) appeals from his felony conviction for assault with a weapon in the Eighteenth Judicial District. We affirm.
¶2 We restate the following issues for review:
Issue One: Whether the District Court erred when it determined White was not mentally fit to stand trial at a proceeding in which White was not present.
Issue Two: Whether the District Court erred by failing to complete the initial appearance process.
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
¶3 During the early morning of February 15, 2011, Mark Ward (Ward) was delivering newspapers to the Darlington Manor in Bozeman, Montana. White lived in the Darlington Manor. After hearing noises in the hallway, White had a brief conversation with Ward and told him to never return to the building.
¶4 Ward returned the following day to deliver papers to residents of the building. As Ward was leaving the building, White confronted him, stating, "I thought I told you to get out of here and never come back." White then assaulted Ward, slamming him into a door and jumping on him multiple times. After the assault ended, Ward returned to his vehicle and called 911. While on the phone, White entered the vehicle and cut Ward's face. Ultimately, Ward was able to drive to safety and police arrested White.
¶5 During the event, White made multiple statements indicating he was suffering from mental health problems. On the 911 call, White is heard referring to Ward as a "Kraut." When police arrived at the scene, White stated, "Come on, let's go. The Nazis are over here. Let's go kill them." White also told police that he was wearing gloves because he planned to cut Ward's eyes out and feed the eyes to a cat.
¶6 On February 17, 2011, White was charged by complaint with assault with a weapon after a justice of the peace determined there was probable cause to believe he committed the offense. Soon after his placement at the Gallatin County Detention Center, White was transferred to the Hope House for psychiatric treatment. While at Hope House, White was delusional and acted aggressively. As a result, involuntary civil commitment proceedings were initiated. In late February 2011, the District Court found that probable cause existed for the offense and an information charging White with assault with a weapon was filed.
¶7 On February 28, 2011, White and his attorney, Mr. Petaja, appeared before Judge Salvagni via video from Hope House. The District Court and defense counsel had the following conversation:
The Court: You're telling me, Mr. Petaja, that he is not in a mental condition for me to do an Initial Appearance with him this morning; is that correct?
Mr. Petaja: Yes, Your Honor.
The Court: So it would be of no benefit to advise him about these charges filed against him; is that correct?
Mr. Petaja: Not at this time, Judge.
The Court: Okay. The Court will enter a not guilty plea at Mr. Petaja's request to the charge of --
Mr. Petaja: They're entering a not guilty plea, Mark.
The Court: -- to the charge of assault with a weapon. The Court will issue a Conditional Release Order, however, in the criminal case.
The Court: So the Court will set bail in the amount of $20, 000, will order that he shall not be released from custody until he appears before the Court setting conditions if he proposes to post bail.
¶8 The District Court then ordered a fitness evaluation pursuant to § 46-14-202, MCA. In a separate proceeding, White was civilly committed to the Montana State Hospital and involuntarily medicated. White's fitness-to-proceed evaluation did not begin until May 2011, after he completed his 90-day civil commitment. On July 22, 2011, doctors at Montana State Hospital issued a report, concluding that White suffered from schizoaffective disorder, a mental disease that substantially impaired his ability to rationally understand court proceedings and consult with his attorney. The State Hospital recommended an extension of White's commitment on the issue of fitness to proceed.
¶9 On August 1, 2011, the District Court conducted a review hearing pursuant to § 46-14-221, MCA. White remained at the State Hospital and did not participate in the hearing. Neither the prosecutor nor defense counsel contested the report's findings. The District Court determined White was unfit to proceed, ...