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State v. Theeler

Supreme Court of Montana

December 6, 2016

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
DONALD L. THEELER, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: October 5, 2016

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District, In and For the County of Flathead, Cause No. DC 13-022D Honorable David M. Ortley, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Alexander H. Pyle, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Tammy K Plubell, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Edward J. Corrigan, Flathead County Attorney, John H. Donovan, Deputy County Attorney, Kalispell, Montana

          OPINION

          Beth Baker, Justice

         ¶1 Donald Theeler physically assaulted his girlfriend, causing her numerous injuries. He sought to dismiss his Partner or Family Member Assault (PFMA) charge on the ground that the statute under which he was charged violated his right to equal protection because it did not apply to persons in same-sex intimate relationships. The Eleventh Judicial District Court upheld the Justice Court's denial of his motion.

         ¶2 We affirm.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 In September 2012, Theeler was arrested after his girlfriend reported that he had "been beating on her all night." The State charged Theeler in Flathead County Justice Court with PFMA pursuant to § 45-5-206, MCA (2011). At that time, the statute defined "partners, " in part, as "persons who have been or are currently in a dating or ongoing intimate relationship with a person of the opposite sex." Section 45-5-206(2)(b) (2011). In 2013, the Legislature struck "with a person of the opposite sex" from the definition of "partners." 2013 Mont. Laws 803, 804.[1]

         ¶4 Theeler filed a motion to dismiss the PFMA charge. He argued that § 45-5-206, MCA, violated his right to equal protection under the United States and Montana constitutions because the statute treated similarly-situated individuals unequally. The Justice Court denied the motion, reasoning that there was "not a difference in treatment under the law for equal protection purposes." The Justice Court found Theeler guilty. He appealed to the District Court. The District Court concluded that the Justice Court correctly analyzed Theeler's equal protection claim and therefore affirmed its denial of Theeler's motion to dismiss. Theeler appeals.

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         ¶5 We review cases that originate in justice court and are appealed to district court as if the appeal originally had been filed in this Court. State v. Kebble, 2015 MT 195, ¶ 14, 380 Mont. 69, 353 P.3d 1175. Accordingly, we undertake an independent examination of the record apart from the district court's decision. Kebble, ¶ 14.

         ¶6 We review de novo a trial court's decision on a motion to dismiss. State v. Kant, 2016 MT 42, ¶ 11, 382 Mont. 239, 367 P.3d 726. Our review of constitutional questions is plenary. State v. Covington, 2012 MT 31, ¶ 13, 364 Mont. 118, 272 P.3d 43. We may uphold a judgment on any basis supported by the record, even if the lower court applied a ...


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