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State v. Hansen

Supreme Court of Montana

November 14, 2017

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
GARY HANSEN, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: October 25, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighth Judicial District, In and For the County of Cascade, Cause No. DDC 13-133 Honorable Dirk M. Sandefur, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Chad R. Vanisko, Assistant Appellate Defender; Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Ryan Ward Aikin, Assistant Attorney General; Helena, Montana, Joshua A. Racki, Cascade County Attorney, Carey Ann Haight, Deputy County Attorney; Great Falls, Montana

          OPINION

          Jim Rice, Justice

         ¶1 Appellant Gary Hansen appeals from the imposition of sentence following his plea of no contest[1] to sexual assault, in the Eighth Judicial District Court, Cascade County. We reverse and remand for further proceedings, addressing the following issue:

         Did the District Court err by accepting Defendant's no contest plea to the charge of sexual assault, and imposing a sentence based upon that plea?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 The State originally charged Hansen with four counts of felony incest, in violation of § 45-5-507(5), MCA, based on allegations that Hansen had sexually abused his eight-year-old granddaughter. That offense carried a mandatory prison sentence of 100 years with no parole eligibility for the first 25 years, subject to exceptions. Section 45-5-507(5)(a)(i), MCA (2013). The State also charged Hansen with one count of obstructing a peace officer, a misdemeanor, after Hansen tried to evade officers during the investigation.

         ¶3 Hansen entered into a plea agreement with the State, wherein he agreed to enter a no contest plea to an amended charge of sexual assault under § 45-5-502(3), MCA (sexual assault of a victim under the age of 16 by an offender at least 3 years older than the victim). This offense carried a minimum sentence of four years, with exceptions, and a maximum of life or 100 years. Section 45-5-502(3), MCA. The State agreed to dismiss the remaining charges and to recommend to the District Court that Hansen be sentenced to 50 years in Montana State Prison (MSP) with 25 years suspended. The agreement allowed Hansen to make any sentencing recommendation he believed to be appropriate.

         ¶4 The District Court conducted a change of plea hearing, finding that a proper basis existed for entry of the no contest plea after explaining in detail to Hansen the difference between a guilty plea and a no contest plea. The District Court found that Hansen was making a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent plea. Before accepting the plea, the District Court informed Hansen that it was not bound by the sentencing recommendations in the plea and advised him of the maximum possible penalty, life or 100 years in prison.

         ¶5 At sentencing, the State recommended a sentence of 50 years with 25 years suspended, consistent with the plea agreement, and Hansen's counsel requested a 20-year sentence, with 10 years suspended. The District Court sentenced Hansen to 60 years in MSP with no time suspended. Hansen appeals, challenging the validity of his plea and sentence, and raising a claim of ineffective assistance against his trial counsel for negotiating a plea agreement premised upon an illegal plea.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶6 We review whether a District Court had statutory authority to impose a sentence denovo. State v. Ring, 2014 MT 49, ¶ 15, 374 ...


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