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Johnson v. State

Supreme Court of Montana

March 28, 2017

JEREMIAH ALLEN JOHNSON, Plaintiff and Appellant
STATE OF MONTANA, Defendant and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: February 15, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DV 14-512 Honorable Robert L. Deschamps, III, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Jeremiah Allen Johnson, self-represented, Deer Lodge, Montana.

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Madison L. Mattioli, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Kirsten H. Pabst, Missoula County Attorney, Jennifer Clark, Deputy County Attorney, Missoula, Montana.


          Dirk M. Sandefur 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 Jeremiah Allen Johnson (Johnson) appeals the dismissal of his petition for postconviction relief by the Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County. We affirm, in part, and remand for an evidentiary hearing, findings of fact, and conclusions of law on Johnson's claim of non-disclosure of a plea offer.

         ¶3 The facts adduced at trial show that, on February 11, 2012, Johnson drove to the home of his ex-girlfriend, Kristy Horvath (Horvath) and her roommate, Tye Diamond (Diamond). As a result of an earlier incident, Diamond had informed Johnson that he was not welcome at the house. Present at the house when Johnson arrived were Horvath, Diamond, and two guests-Katrina Brenna (Brenna) and Horvath's ex-boyfriend, Tommy McDonald (McDonald). Horvath stepped outside and asked Johnson to leave. Johnson left, but continued to drive around the neighborhood.

         ¶4 Johnson returned later that night and knocked on the door. Brenna opened the door with the hope of calming him down but Johnson pushed past her and punched McDonald in the face, breaking his nose. When Diamond intervened, Johnson punched him several times. The altercation moved outside and continued until Johnson said, "I'm done." Law enforcement arrived shortly thereafter.

         ¶5 The State ultimately charged Johnson with burglary and two counts of misdemeanor assault. Johnson later pled guilty to the assaults and went to trial on the burglary charge. Upon conviction at trial, the District Court sentenced Johnson to ten years in prison, with three years suspended, on the burglary and concurrent six-month sentences on the assault charges. Johnson appealed his burglary conviction on the sole contention that the District Court abused its discretion when it denied his motion to excuse a juror for cause. This Court affirmed the conviction on appeal. State v. Johnson, 2014 MT 11, ¶ 20, 373 Mont. 330, 317 P.3d 164.

         ¶6 On May 12, 2015, Johnson timely filed a Petition for Postconviction Relief claiming ineffective assistance of counsel based on nine asserted trial errors. The District Court noted most factual underpinnings for the allegations were record-based and known to Johnson at the time of his appeal. Finding some assertions of error to be non-record-based, the Court issued a Gillham order[1] for further explanation from Johnson's counsel.

         ¶7 By affidavit, trial counsel addressed various assertions of error. Counsel explained that a defense investigator informally interviewed assault victim Tommy McDonald by telephone regarding the severity of his injuries. Counsel stated he advised Johnson that McDonald's injuries were so severe the State potentially could amend one of the misdemeanor assault charges to aggravated assault, a felony. With that in mind, Johnson elected to plead to the two misdemeanor assault charges. Regarding the State's original plea offer in April 2012, counsel stated he discussed the offer with Johnson, who was then not in jail, but Johnson rejected it out of hand.

         ¶8 Upon consideration of Johnson's petition, counsel's affidavit, and the State's response, the District Court addressed each of Johnson's claims. The court ultimately dismissed the petition without a hearing on the grounds that Johnson's record-based assertions of error failed to a state a cognizable claim for postconviction relief and that Johnson failed to provide sufficient evidentiary support to sustain his non-record-based claims.

         ¶9 This Court reviews a district court's denial of a petition for postconviction relief to determine whether the court's findings of fact are clearly erroneous and whether its conclusions of law are correct. Hamilton v. State, 2010 MT 25, ¶ 7, 355 Mont. 133, 226 P.3d 588. We review a district court's decision regarding whether to hold an evidentiary hearing in a postconviction proceeding for an abuse of discretion. Herman v. State, 2006 MT 7, ¶ 13, 330 Mont. 267, 127 P.3d 422. This Court reviews de novo mixed ...

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