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State v. Meyer

Supreme Court of Montana

May 30, 2017

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
DANIEL KENNETH MEYER, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: May 3, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District, In and For the County of Flathead, Cause No. DC-15-233A Honorable Katherine R. Curtis, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Alexander H. Pyle, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Madison L. Mattioli, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Ed Corrigan, Flathead County Attorney, Kenneth R. Park, Deputy County Attorney, Kalispell, Montana

          OPINION

          Mike McGrath, Chief Justice

         ¶1 Daniel Kenneth Meyer appeals from the District Court's order filed October 27, 2015, affirming Meyer's conviction of Aggravated DUI in the Justice Court of Flathead County. We affirm the District Court's order.

         ¶2 The issue on appeal is whether the District Court properly affirmed Meyer's Justice Court DUI conviction.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 In January 2015 the State charged Meyer with several offenses, including Aggravated Driving Under the Influence as provided in § 61-8-465, MCA. That statute provides that Aggravated DUI consists, in part, of being "in violation of" one of the DUI statutes[1] while having a prior conviction of DUI within ten years, or two or more prior convictions during any time period. Meyer had one prior DUI conviction within ten years of the current offense and two prior DUI convictions total. Meyer does not contest the existence of the prior DUI convictions.

         ¶4 The day prior to the commencement of trial in Justice Court, Meyer filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude evidence of any prior convictions under M. R. Evid. 403 and 404. Rule 403 allows a judge to exclude relevant evidence "if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence." Rule 404 applies to character evidence, and subsection (b) limits admissibility of other crimes, wrongs or acts when offered to prove the character of a person to show action in conformity with that character. Meyer contended that the evidence of prior convictions was more prejudicial than probative and should therefore be excluded. He offered to stipulate to the prior convictions for "sentencing purposes" as long as the jury did not hear about them.

         ¶5 The Justice Court determined that conviction of a prior DUI is an element of the charge of Aggravated DUI; that the State had the burden to prove the prior offense at trial; and that the State could meet its burden by introducing a copy of Meyer's driving record. The Justice Court admitted Meyer's certified driving record into evidence. It contained two entries (for years 2001 and 2005) that indicated that Meyers had prior convictions for "driving under the influence of alcohol." No other material details of the prior convictions are contained in the driving record.

         ¶6 The Justice Court instructed the jury on the statutory elements of the offense of Aggravated DUI, including the requirement that the defendant "has one prior conviction or pending charge for a violation of Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Operating a Vehicle with an Alcohol Concentration in Excess of .08 within 10 years of the commission of the present offense." The Justice Court jury convicted Meyer of Aggravated DUI.

         ¶7 Meyer appealed the conviction to the District Court in Flathead County, which conducted an appellate review based upon the Justice Court record. The District Court considered Meyer's contention that evidence of his prior DUI offenses was not an element of the crime of Aggravated DUI, but was relevant only as a "penalty provision" so did not need to be proven at trial. Meyer also argued that evidence of his prior convictions was prejudicial under M. R. Evid. 403 and 404 and should therefore be excluded.

         ¶8 The District Court agreed with the Justice Court that evidence of Meyer's prior DUI convictions proved an element of the charged crime of Aggravated DUI that must be determined by the jury. The District Court concluded that a charge of Aggravated DUI under § 61-8-465, MCA, "requires evidence of a jury determination that the defendant had been convicted or charged with prior DUI violations." Meyer's offer to stipulate to the prior convictions at sentencing failed to address the issue that the ...


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