Submitted on Briefs: December 21, 2016
FROM: District Court of the First Judicial District, In and
For the County of Lewis and Clark, Cause No. DDC 14-413
Honorable James P. Reynolds, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, James
Reavis, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana
Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, C. Mark
Fowler, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Thomas
Jodoin, Helena City Attorney, Todd Baker, Deputy City
Attorney, Helena, Montana
Rick Dennis Strobel was charged with partner or family member
assault (PFMA) after attacking his wife, Bridget Rogers.
Rogers told the police that Strobel hit her in the face and
tried to force her into a pickup truck. At trial, Rogers
recanted her prior statement to the police. The Municipal
Court nonetheless convicted Strobel of PFMA, and the District
Court affirmed. Positing that the only evidence establishing
the required element of "bodily injury" was
Rogers's prior inconsistent statement, Strobel argues
that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction.
AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Helena Police Officer Jonathan Cook responded to a
bystander's 9-1-1 call reporting that a man-later
identified as Strobel-was trying to force a woman into a
pickup truck. Upon arrival at the scene, Officer Cook spoke
with Rogers. He observed that Rogers was visibly upset, that
she was crying, and that she smelled strongly of alcohol.
Officer Cook testified that Rogers told him that Strobel
tried to push her into the truck, that he grabbed her by the
face, and that he punched her twice in the face. Officer Cook
did not observe any injuries on Rogers, and she refused
The City of Helena charged Strobel with PFMA under §
45-5-206(1)(a), MCA. Thomas Baty, the bystander who called
9-1-1, testified that he saw Strobel trying to push Rogers
into the passenger side of the truck and that this
"looked wrong" to him. He stated that Rogers
resisted Strobel's efforts to push her into the truck.
Baty did not see Strobel punch Rogers or hear Rogers scream
or cry for help.
When Rogers took the witness stand at trial, she testified
that she was drunk at the time of the alleged assault and
could only vaguely remember what happened. She claimed to not
recall what she told Officer Cook, and she asserted that
Strobel did not strike her in the face.
Strobel moved to dismiss the charges for insufficient
evidence. The Municipal Court denied the motion and convicted
him. Strobel then appealed his conviction to the First
Judicial District Court. He argued that because Rogers
recanted her statement and there was no other testimony that
Strobel had struck her or otherwise caused her bodily injury,
the evidence was not sufficient to support every element of
the crime of PFMA under § 45-5-206(1)(a), MCA.
The District Court affirmed Strobel's conviction. The
court reasoned that Officer Cook's and Baty's
testimony supported the Municipal Court's conclusion that
Strobel had caused Rogers bodily injury. Thus, the District
Court held that sufficient evidence existed to support a
finding that Strobel was guilty of PFMA. Strobel appeals.
When reviewing a district court's ruling on the decision
of a municipal court, we examine the record independently of
the district court's decision, applying the appropriate
standards of review. City of Missoula v. Tye, 2016
MT 153, ¶ 8, 384 Mont. 24, 372 P.3d 1286. We review
questions on the sufficiency of the evidence in a criminal
matter to determine whether, after reviewing the evidence in
the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational
trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the
crime beyond a reasonable doubt. State v.
Spottedbear, 2016 MT 243, ¶ 8, 385 Mont. 68, 380
P.3d 810. Whether sufficient evidence exists to convict a
defendant is ultimately an application of the law to the
facts and, as such, is properly reviewed de novo. State
v. Colburn, 2016 MT 246, ¶ 7, 385 Mont. ...