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State v. Nuessle

Supreme Court of Montana

December 20, 2016

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
JERALD NUESSLE, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: October 26, 2016

          For Appellant Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Lisa S. Korchinski, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Mark W. Mattioli, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Robert Zimmerman, Sanders County Attorney, Amy Kenison, Deputy County Attorney, Thompson Falls, Montana

          Jim Rice Justice

         ¶1 Jerald Nuessle (Nuessle) appeals the judgment entered by the Twentieth Judicial Court, Sanders County, convicting him of felony Obstructing Justice under § 45-7-303(2)(a), MCA. We affirm and restate the issues as follows:

1. Did the District Court improperly instruct the jury, committing plain error?
2. Was defense counsel ineffective for failing to submit a jury instruction defining the statutory term "knowing"?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Shelley Nelson (Nelson), Nuessle's former girlfriend, stole a vehicle in Lewistown and drove it to Thompson Falls. Acting on a tip, law enforcement officers from the City of Thompson Falls, Sanders County, and the Montana Highway Patrol converged on the home of Sharon Dexter (Dexter), where Nelson and the stolen vehicle were reported to be.

         ¶3 Dexter, her son, John Dexter, Nuessle, and Nelson were in the Dexter residence when police arrived. Two officers approached the front door of the residence while a third officer took a position near the back door. One officer heard people running inside the house. The two officers at the front door advised Dexter they had a warrant for Nelson's arrest, and asked if Nelson was inside. Dexter answered that she believed Nelson was inside and gave permission to the officers to enter and search for Nelson.

         ¶4 Dexter led officers through the living room and down the hallway to the bedrooms. Upon arriving at the back bedroom, the officers encountered Nuessle, who was sitting on a bed. Nuessle reported that Nelson had fled out the back door. However, the officer stationed outside the back door stated that Nuessle had looked outside the door, observed the law enforcement presence, and retreated back inside the residence. No one else exited the residence. Police located Nelson underneath the headboard of the bed upon which Nuessle had been sitting, and arrested her.

         ¶5 Nelson initially told officers that Nuessle was not involved in hiding her from police. She later admitted that she hid from officers, knowing law enforcement was looking for her, and that Nuessle had aided her in hiding, including telling officers that she had fled from the residence, which was not true. Nelson explained that she had initially lied about Nuessle's involvement because she was "covering for [Nuessle]" and "didn't want him to get in trouble."

         ¶6 Nuessle was charged with Obstructing Justice under § 45-7-303(2)(a), MCA, which provides that "[a] person commits the offense of obstructing justice if, knowing another person is an offender, the person purposely: (a) harbors or conceals an offender." Nelson pled guilty to theft charges and testified at Nuessle's trial, stating:

[Nuessle] came running in from the kitchen area and he said, oh shit, let's hide, let's hide you, you know, let's hide you; run straight back to his bedroom. He lifted up part of the bed to help me under it. I crawled under. He put it back down, and I said, oh, they're going to know I'm here obviously if you don't throw some of my stuff under here. ...

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