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State v. Onofrey

Supreme Court of Montana

April 24, 2018

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
JOHN THOMAS ONOFREY, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: March 7, 2018

          District Court of the Sixth Judicial District, In and For the County of Park, Cause No. DC 17-32 Honorable Brenda Gilbert, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Karl Knuchel, Aaron Brann, Karl Knuchel P.C., Livingston, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Jonathan M. Krauss, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana

          Bruce E. Becker, Park County Attorney, Livingston, Montana

          OPINION

          Laurie McKinnon, 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 Appellant John Thomas Onofrey (Onofrey) appeals from an order entered in the Sixth Judicial District Court, Park County, affirming Onofrey's judgment of conviction in the Park County Justice Court, Park County. We affirm.

         ¶3 On October 26, 2016, at approximately 1:30 a.m., Park County Sheriff's Deputy Dean DuVall was on patrol on Highway 89 near Gardiner when he observed a vehicle pass him northbound with no taillights illuminated. Deputy DuVall observed the vehicle cross the centerline multiple times on straight stretches of the roadway. Consequently, Deputy DuVall initiated a traffic stop and identified Onofrey as the driver by his license. During the interaction, Deputy DuVall noted Onofrey had slurred speech, a fixed gaze, fumbled with his fingers, had to be reminded to produce insurance and registration documents, and smelled of alcohol. Onofrey admitted to having three drinks. Deputy DuVall had Onofrey perform several field sobriety tests, which indicated impairment. Onofrey was placed under arrest for driving under the influence (DUI) and transferred to the hospital where a blood test was administered. The test results indicated Onofrey had a BAC of 0.145.

         ¶4 The State charged Onofrey in Justice Court with first offense DUI, in violation of § 61-8-401, MCA, and driving over a divided space, in violation of § 61-8-330, MCA. Onofrey filed a motion to suppress, alleging there was no particularized suspicion for the stop. The Justice Court held a hearing on Onofrey's motion on February 24, 2017, and concluded that there was particularized suspicion because Onofrey did not have properly working taillights and he crossed the centerline multiple times, both of which constituted traffic violations.

         ¶5 The Justice Court set a jury confirmation hearing for March 8, 2017, and advised Onofrey that he must appear or his right to a jury trial would be waived pursuant to § 46-16-120, MCA. A day before the jury confirmation hearing, Onofrey filed a motion to continue his trial and other deadlines. Assuming the motion would be granted, Onofrey and his counsel did not appear for the hearing and the Justice Court, which subsequently denied the motion, determined Onofrey waived his right to a jury trial. In accordance with the Justice Court's scheduling order and § 46-15-322, MCA, the State filed a designation of Doug Lancon as its lab analyst and toxicology expert and produced a copy of the lab report to the defense. Onofrey received no further explanation of the lab result from the State. The State also filed a motion for video testimony from Lancon, to which Onofrey failed to respond or object.

         ¶6 The Justice Court conducted a bench trial on April 5, 2017. The State called Lancon to testify by video conference. Onofrey objected to the video testimony and additionally claimed that the State failed to disclose reports regarding Lancon's opinion, although the alcohol report was disclosed. The Justice Court overruled Onofrey's objection because the State had designated Lancon as a witness and disclosed the alcohol report. The Justice Court explained it would allow the State to use Lancon's testimony to lay a foundation for the alcohol report regardless of whether it called him as an expert.

         ¶7 Based on the evidence produced at trial, the Justice Court found Onofrey guilty of DUI, but not guilty of driving over the divided space. The Justice Court reaffirmed its position that there was particularized suspicion for the stop and concluded that the blood-test result of 0.145 BAC clearly indicated that Onofrey was impaired. The Justice Court imposed a jail sentence of ten days, with nine days suspended; ordered Onofrey pay $785 in fines and court costs; ordered completion of the ACT program; and suspended Onofrey's license for six months. Onofrey appealed his conviction to the District Court, raising three issues: (1) that there was not particularized suspicion for the stop; (2) that he was denied his constitutional right to a jury trial; and (3) that the Justice Court abused its discretion in allowing a crime lab analyst to testify as a "fact witness who has expert knowledge" by way of video testimony. The District Court affirmed Onofrey's conviction. Onofrey appeals, raising the same issues he raised in District Court.

         ¶8 On appeal from justice court, the district court functions as an intermediate appellate court confined to review of the record and questions of law. State v. Luke, 2014 MT 22, ¶ 9, 373 Mont. 398, 321 P.3d 70; § 3-5-303, MCA; § 3-10-115(1), MCA. On appeal of a district court's appellate review of a lower court ruling, this Court reviews the lower court ruling as if appealed directly ...


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