Submitted on Briefs: October 26, 2016
Appellant Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Lisa S.
Korchinski, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana
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
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
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
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.
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.
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.
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
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. ...