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State v. Reese Sutton

Supreme Court of Montana

June 12, 2018

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
MARY ANN REESE SUTTON, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: May 9, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Seventeenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Valley, Cause No. DC 14-13 Honorable John C. McKeon, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, Deborah S. Smith, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Madison L. Mattioli, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Dylan J. Jensen, Valley County Attorney, Glasgow, Montana



         ¶1 Mary Ann Reese Sutton (Sutton) appeals her convictions, after jury trial, of charges related to marijuana possession and production, and resisting arrest, in the Seventeenth Judicial District Court, Valley County. We affirm, addressing the following issues:

1. Must Sutton's marijuana-related convictions be reversed pursuant to the exemption from prosecution contained in the Montana Medical Marijuana Act (MMA)?
2. Was Sutton's conviction of resisting arrest supported by substantial evidence?


         ¶2 On March 18, 2014, Glasgow Police Chief Bruce Barstad visited Sutton's residence, believing Sutton's vehicle was left in a city park, stuck in the mud. Barstad spoke with Sutton outside the entryway of her home, established it was Sutton's vehicle, and issued her a citation. While speaking with Sutton, Barstad smelled the odor of marijuana, observed a two-foot tall marijuana plant in a five-gallon bucket in the outer porch area, and noticed a water system running into the house. Barstad believed the water system indicated a grow operation and asked if he could look at the marijuana in the house. Sutton responded that he needed a warrant. Barstad took a picture of the marijuana plant in the outer area and left. He forwarded the information to Chief Deputy Reed Mesman, who, in turn, briefed Deputy Sheriff Estevez. Estevez investigated and determined that Sutton's partner, Anthony Mitchell, who was then serving a jail sentence, was a registered medical marijuana cardholder. Estevez also determined that Sutton had previously been a cardholder, but her card had expired.

         ¶3 On March 28, Estevez and Deputy Sheriff Wayne Shipp visited Sutton's home.[1] Sutton recognized the deputies and greeted them. They inquired about the marijuana and Sutton replied, "you are welcome to come in and look at them" and "there's nothing illegal here." Sutton escorted them to a room where additional marijuana plants were growing. Before entering the room, Sutton indicated the plants couldn't be exposed to light yet, but allowed the officers to use their flashlights. They entered the room and observed a large grow light suspended from the ceiling, several running box fans, and nine mature marijuana plants, which Sutton explained were just beginning to flower. She stated that she was a "farm girl from Indiana" and a "master gardener, " that she was responsible for ensuring "controlled conditions, " and had cared for the plants by "water[ing] them" and "every day . . . mak[ing] sure" there were no insects on the plants. Sutton detailed the lighting and ventilation needs, the growth and flowering of the plants, and the drying and harvesting process to the officers. The deputies obtained her consent to search the freezer for consumable marijuana, but found none. The deputies then discussed compliance with the MMA with Sutton. She indicated that, at one time, she had been a licensed attorney in Montana, and believed that because the property was "jointly owned, " her act of taking care of the plants in Mitchell's absence was legally permissible. Estevez asked if she had a medical marijuana card, and Sutton responded that she had one in the past but her medical issue had resolved, so she let the card expire. The deputies then left the property.

         ¶4 On April 8, 2014, Estevez and other officers executed a search warrant at Sutton's residence while Sutton was not present at the house. They seized the nine mature marijuana plants in the grow room, 18 seedling plants growing underneath a heat light in the living room, and an additional mature plant in the living room.[2] They also seized two large mason jars containing a green leafy residue, a metallic smoking pipe, two digital scales, marijuana in a brown paper bag, and growing supplies from the grow room. They left and submitted the seized evidence to a secure storage facility.

         ¶5 When Estevez returned to the Valley County Sheriff's Office, he recognized Sutton's vehicle parked at the nearby courthouse. Estevez located Sutton in the courthouse's public law library, and approached her to discuss the earlier search at her residence, sitting down at a table across from her. Before the conversation, Estevez asked Deputy Mesman to accompany him. The officers told Sutton that they had executed a search warrant at her house and seized marijuana and related materials. Sutton had already been to the residence and possessed copies of the property receipt and search warrant the officers had left there during the search.

         ¶6 Estevez and Mesman testified at trial that Sutton quickly became upset and began yelling loudly, called Estevez foul names, and stated she was preparing a brief to sue the State and the Valley County Sheriff's Office. Estevez warned Sutton that if she did not stop her actions, he would place her under arrest for disorderly conduct, at which point Sutton stood up, leaned over the table, pointed her fingers in Estevez' face, and continued the conduct. Estevez then stood up and advised Sutton he was placing her under arrest. He testified he grabbed Sutton's arm, but that she began "forcefully and actively pulling away" and ignored his commands to stop resisting. Estevez then employed an arm bar maneuver to position Sutton for placement of handcuffs, but she pushed off the table with her other hand, making it difficult for Estevez to gain control, so Mesman intervened to assist. Mesman testified that Sutton was physically resisting and it was difficult to "plac[e] handcuffs on her" and "gain control, " and that she became "rigid . . . trying to pull away, continued to yell loudly and . . . use[d] abusive language [and] profanities." The deputies testified they eventually placed Sutton in handcuffs and escorted her out of the library, while Sutton continued to pull away and at times make her body rigid and stiff.

         ¶7 On April 21, 2014, the State filed an Information charging Sutton with Criminal Production or Manufacture of Dangerous Drugs (Count I); Criminal Possession of Dangerous Drugs (Count II); Criminal Possession of Drug Paraphernalia (Count III); Disorderly Conduct (Count IV); and Resisting Arrest (Count V). Sutton filed a motion to suppress evidence and dismiss the drug charges, arguing that the evidence was seized pursuant to an unlawful stop made in the absence of particularized suspicion, based on the contention that her presence near the marijuana in the residence could not be used to form particularized suspicion that she criminally possessed the plant on the outer porch because, under the MMA, a marijuana cardholder is legally able to possess marijuana without "imputing constructive possession on [people] who live with him in the residence." The District Court denied the motion, reasoning that Sutton's argument "inexplicitly assume[d]" that the officers could only suspect the marijuana plant belonged to Mitchell and was permissibly constructively possessed by Sutton under the MMA, when there was evidence that ...

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