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State v. Lafield

Supreme Court of Montana

December 27, 2016

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
JEFFORY A. LAFIELD, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: November 30, 2016

         District Court of the Twenty-First Judicial District, In and For the County of Ravalli, Cause No. DC 13-55 Honorable Jeffrey H. Langton, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Paul Sullivan, Measure, Sampsel, Sullivan & O'Brien, P.C., Kalispell, Montana.

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Madison L. Mattioli, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana William E. Fulbright, Ravalli County Attorney, Hamilton, Montana.


          Michael E Wheat Justice.

         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

         ¶2 In October 2013, Jeffory LaField entered into a plea agreement in which he pled no contest to felony driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), fourth or subsequent offense, and felony assault on a peace officer. The Montana Twenty-First Judicial District Court, Ravalli County, accepted the plea agreement and entered a Judgment and Commitment in December 2013. An Amended Judgment and Commitment was entered on January 24, 2014.

         ¶3 For LaField's felony DUI conviction, the District Court committed LaField to the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) for a period of thirteen months, for placement into an appropriate correctional facility, followed by a five-year suspended commitment to the DOC. The judgment provided that if LaField completed the WATCh program or other residential alcohol treatment program operated or approved by the DOC, the court would allow him to serve the remainder of his thirteen-month commitment on probation. For LaField's felony assault conviction, the court committed him to the custody of the DOC for a period of five years, all suspended on conditions, and set to run concurrently to the felony DUI sentence.

         ¶4 In July 2014, the State filed a petition to revoke LaField's suspended sentence on the grounds that LaField violated conditions of his sentence, including failing to comply with the rules and regulations of the WATCh program in January 2014, and disobeying the law by assaulting a fellow inmate in June 2014. At the October 6, 2014 scheduling hearing, the court released LaField on his own recognizance subject to specific conditions of release. The District Court set a revocation hearing for November 24, 2014.

         ¶5 On November 19, 2014, the State filed an amended petition to revoke LaField's suspended sentence. In the amended petition, the State alleged that, in addition to the violated conditions set forth in the original Petition, on November 15, 2014, LaField violated numerous other conditions including driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and assaulting another peace officer.

         ¶6 We note that from April 2013, when the State filed its Information, through the revocation proceeding in March 2015, LaField was represented by six attorneys, most of whom withdrew. At the revocation hearing, LaField represented himself, with appointed stand-by counsel. Just before the hearing commenced, LaField became angry and spit on stand-by counsel. The District Court allowed the hearing to commence with warnings to LaField. However, shortly into LaField's cross-examination of the State's first witness, LaField became combative and threatened and cursed the judge. The judge had him removed from the courtroom and put into a room with "sight and sound" technology to allow him to follow the proceeding. LaField refused to watch or listen.

         ¶7 The District Court conducted the hearing, instructing stand-by counsel to cross-examine the State's multiple witnesses. At the close of the hearing, the District Court revoked both suspended sentences and committed LaField to the DOC for five years with a strong recommendation for prison placement. The District Court issued its written Order of Commitment on March 5, 2015. It is from this Order that LaField appeals.

         ¶8 We review a district court's revocation of a suspended sentence for an abuse of discretion. State v. Baird, 2006 MT 266, ¶ 15, 334 Mont. 185, 145 P.3d 995.

         ¶9 LaField, through counsel, argues on appeal that he is entitled to a written statement of the evidence upon which the court relied in revoking his suspended sentences. He claims that because he was absent from the courtroom during the proceeding, the District Court's obligation to provide such a written statement was critical. He proffers that the ...

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