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State v. Whitford

Supreme Court of Montana

August 7, 2018

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,

          Submitted on Briefs: July 11, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Twentieth Judicial District, In and For the County of Lake, Cause No. DC 13-45 Honorable James A. Manley, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Eileen A. Larkin, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Jonathan M. Krauss, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Daniel Guzynski, Special Deputy Lake County Attorney, Helena, Montana



         ¶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 Makueeyapee Whitford was tried by a Lake County jury in 2014 and convicted of deliberate homicide in violation of § 45-5-102, MCA. Whitford now appeals the Montana Twentieth Judicial District Court's denial of his motion for a new trial. We affirm.

         ¶3 In March 2013, Whitford attended a large party in Polson. As he was leaving the party, Whitford stabbed and killed John Pierre. After his arrest and appropriate Miranda warnings, Whitford agreed to two interviews with police; both occurred in a sheriff's office interview room, and both were video-recorded. Whitford asserted a justifiable use of force defense. He testified at trial about the events leading up to the party, why he stabbed Pierre, and how he was arrested and jailed.

         ¶4 The State sought to admit both video interviews into evidence at trial. Both depicted Whitford in orange jail clothes and wearing restraints. The District Court admitted Video 1 without objection. Two off-the-record conversations ensued between counsel and the court before the jury watched Video 1. The next day, out of the jury's presence, the defense made a record that reflected an objection it had made during one of the previous day's off-the-record discussions, stating that allowing the jury to see Whitford in jail clothing and in restraints in Video 1-rather than playing only the audio portion-was prejudicial to him.

         ¶5 When the State sought to admit Video 2, the defense objected, stating outside the presence of the jury that Video 2 was irrelevant and prejudicial ("again, it's another image of him in orange, another image of him in handcuffs for a mere conversation about procedural stuff"). The District Court overruled the objection and admitted Video 2, and the jury watched it.

         ¶6 Whitford argues that he was denied a fair and impartial trial and was prejudiced when the District Court admitted and allowed the jury to watch the interview videos.

         ¶7 We generally review a trial court's evidentiary rulings for an abuse of discretion. State v. Ankeny, 2018 MT 91, ¶ 16, 391 Mont. 176, 417 P.3d 275. A trial court has broad discretion in determining the relevance and admissibility of evidence. State v. Santillan, 2017 MT 314, ¶ 24, 390 Mont. 25, 408 P.3d 130. "Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice." M. R. Evid. 403. Unfair prejudice occurs when the evidence causes the jury to make its determination on an "improper" basis. Ankeny, ¶ 33 (quoting State v. Stewart, 2012 MT 317, ¶ 68, 367 Mont. 503, 291 P.3d 1187). Because of the risk of unfair prejudice, a defendant's Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process are violated if he is compelled to appear at a jury trial in identifiable jail clothing. Estelle v. Williams, 425 U.S. 501, 512, 96 S.Ct. 1691, 1697 (1976). This Court has urged district courts to order jail officials to bring defendants into court dressed in their own clothes. State v. Rodriguez, 192 Mont. 411, 420, 628 P.2d 280, 285 (1981). Defendants generally are entitled by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article II, Section 17, of the Montana Constitution to appear before juries without shackles and other restraints. State v. Rickett, 2016 MT 168, ¶ 8, 384 Mont. 114, 375 P.3d 368 (citing State v. Herrick, 2004 MT 323, ¶¶ 12-13, 324 Mont. 76, 101 P.3d 755). We have not held that a defendant has the same right to exclude video evidence showing him in identifiable jail clothes and restraints.

         ¶8 Whitford argues that he would not have been prejudiced had only the audio portions of Videos 1 and 2 been played, which he suggested at trial. On this record, we conclude that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the jury to watch the videos. The jury knew about Whitford's arrest and detention from evidence other than the videos, including unchallenged testimony from other witnesses and later from Whitford himself. Further, although Whitford was interviewed in jail clothes and restraints, the jury viewed Whitford personally in his own clothes and without restraints during the six days of trial. Whitford has not carried his burden on appeal to demonstrate prejudice to his substantial rights. See § 46-20-701(1), MCA.

         ¶9 The State called Adrian Afterbuffalo at trial to testify about the events related to Whitford's assault of Pierre. Afterbuffalo testified that he was concerned about Whitford's behavior that night because Whitford seemed as if he was preparing for a fight and was "hyping up and getting all violent." He testified that Whitford had given him a knife and he had taken another knife away from Whitford and told him there was "no reason to be trying to fight around." Afterbuffalo testified that he told Whitford, "If you're going to keep acting this way, we're going to turn around and go back to the motel ...

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