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State v. Sherman

Supreme Court of Montana

February 28, 2017

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
MATTHEW DAVID SHERMAN, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: February 1, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Twenty-First Judicial District, In and For the County of Ravalli, Cause No. DC 13-220 Honorable Jeffrey H. Langton, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Haley Connell Jackson, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Tammy A. Hinderman, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, William E. Fulbright, Ravalli County Attorney, Thorin Giest, Deputy County Attorney, Hamilton, Montana



         ¶1 Matthew Sherman pleaded guilty to two felonies and one misdemeanor for possessing dangerous drugs with intent to distribute. At sentencing, the District Court allowed the State to admit evidence, over Sherman's objection, of an allegation that Sherman had raped his cellmate while in jail. The court sentenced Sherman to 100 years in prison as a persistent felony offender. Sherman argues that his sentence must be reversed because the court relied on the rape allegation after assuring him that it would not do so.

         ¶2 We affirm.


         ¶3 In October 2013, Ravalli County Sheriff's officers arrested Sherman at a motel in Hamilton, Montana, after receiving information that he was distributing dangerous drugs. Officers recovered methamphetamine and marijuana upon searching Sherman's motel room and vehicle.

         ¶4 Sherman entered into an open plea agreement in December 2014 in which he pleaded guilty to three offenses: felony possession of dangerous drugs with intent to distribute; felony possession of dangerous drugs; and misdemeanor possession of dangerous drugs. The plea agreement provided a maximum possible penalty for the three combined counts of 200 years and six months in prison, plus a $100, 500 fine. It provided also that Sherman would be sentenced as a persistent felony offender.

         ¶5 The court held a sentencing hearing in April 2015. The Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI) report contained a summary of Sherman's criminal history, which included numerous drug-related convictions. The report added a "Jail Adjustment Summary" discussing Sherman's myriad behavioral incidents while detained at the Ravalli County Detention Center after his October 2013 arrest. The summary included, among other incidents, Sherman's attempts to "cheek" or "pocket" his medications, his striking another inmate in the face, an allegation that he intimidated other inmates to give him their commissary items and extra phone minutes, and an allegation that he had raped his cellmate in February 2015. The rape allegation was still under investigation at the time of the sentencing hearing and had not resulted in a criminal charge.

         ¶6 At the sentencing hearing, the State sought to admit a jail incident report discussing the alleged rape. Sherman's counsel objected to the report and to the discussion of the alleged rape in the PSI report on the grounds that investigation into the incident was ongoing and that the court's consideration of the incident would violate Sherman's due process rights. The District Court overruled the objection, reasoning that evidence of the alleged rape "would have some limited utility in regard to the Defendant's behavior in the detention center." Of the substance of the rape allegation, the court stated, "[I]f there's [sic] no convictions or charges even, I won't be relying on this in making my sentence." Sherman offered no evidence to rebut the allegation.

         ¶7 The court sentenced Sherman to 100 years in prison and explained in open court the reasons for the sentence. It observed that Sherman had at least ten prior felony convictions, most of which pertained to possessing, transporting, or distributing controlled substances, in addition to various drug-related misdemeanor offenses. It highlighted Sherman's 2003 convictions for possession of methamphetamine and using a communication device to facilitate distribution, for which Sherman was sentenced to seven years in prison and four years of probation. It emphasized that Sherman had absconded from probation and was in violation of that probation when he was arrested in October 2013. It noted that, as a primary source of methamphetamine distribution in Ravalli County, Sherman had caused significant "social damage" to the community. The court stated that it recognized many of the names of persons to whom Sherman had distributed methamphetamine and noted that their methamphetamine use had caused significant damage to them and to their families. In some cases, the court pointed out, the methamphetamine users had lost their parental rights because of their addictions. Due to Sherman's extensive record of drug-related offenses, the court doubted that Sherman would be amenable to treatment or rehabilitation.

         ¶8 The court noted further that Sherman had a "lengthy history of problems in the jail . . . [m]ore than anybody [the court had] ever sentenced before." The court did not specifically mention the allegation that Sherman had raped his cellmate. It concluded that the primary goal of the ...

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