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State v. Degele

Supreme Court of Montana

September 4, 2018

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
DANIEL JOSEPH DEGELE, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: August 15, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause No. DC 14-1008 Honorable Russell C. Fagg, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, Moses Okeyo, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Tammy A. Hinderman, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Scott D. Twito, Yellowstone County Attorney, Julie Mees, Deputy County Attorney, Billings, Montana

          OPINION.

          Jim Rice 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 non-citable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

         ¶2 Daniel Joseph Degele (Degele) appeals the sentence imposed by the Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone County, after he pleaded guilty to two counts of felony sexual intercourse without consent. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for correction of the judgment.

         ¶3 Degele's then six-year-old niece reported that Degele penetrated her vagina with his finger in June 2013, causing pain. Degele denied this, though he later admitted he had touched her vagina. In November 2013, Degele's twenty-three-month-old daughter was brought to the emergency room with a bloody diaper. Degele eventually admitted he had penetrated her vagina and anus with his penis, offering that he was "possessed" or "forced" by a "demon" or an "evil force." Degele caused significant injury during the assault. His daughter was flown to Denver for emergency surgery and will suffer permanent complications. Degele was originally charged with felony sexual assault for touching his niece, and two counts of felony sexual intercourse without consent (SIWOC) for his assaults upon his daughter.

         ¶4 As part of a plea agreement, Degele pled guilty to the two counts of SIWOC, in exchange for dismissal of the sexual assault charge involving his niece and the State's sentencing recommendation of concurrent one-hundred-year sentences, with sixty years suspended, for each count. The District Court ordered a psychosexual and mental health evaluation of Degele, who was admitted to the Forensic Mental Health Facility (FMHF) at the Montana State Hospital. Degele was diagnosed with pedophilia, schizophrenia, and developmental deficiencies.

         ¶5 At the sentencing hearing, Dr. Virginia Hill, a psychiatrist at Montana State Hospital, opined that Degele was psychotic at the time of the crime against his daughter, that his experience of "voices and demons contributed to his compromised capacity to conform his behavior to the requirement of the law," and that his capacity to appreciate the criminality of his behavior was also compromised, though not as severely. Dr. Hill acknowledged Degele's case was a difficult one, given some indication that Degele was exaggerating his symptoms, but nonetheless offered these conclusions to a reasonable degree of medical certainly. Dr. Hill recommended Degele be committed to the Director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) on a "guilty but mentally ill" sentence, with initial placement at FMHF. Dr. Hill noted her assumption that "Jessica's Law" would apply to Degele, meaning he would not be eligible for parole for twenty-five years. See § 45-5-503(4)(a)(i), MCA (2013). She also explained that the Director of DPHHS could ultimately transfer Degele to the Montana State Prison upon certain statutory findings, though she indicated such a transfer would not be common.

         ¶6 The prosecutor made a sentencing recommendation in accordance with the plea agreement, including that Degele be committed to the Director of DPHHS for a "guilty but mentally ill" placement. The prosecutor urged that, if Degele became medically stabilized, he should be transferred to the Montana State Prison for the remainder of his term. The prosecutor also noted that Jessica's Law applied, meaning Degele would not be eligible for parole for twenty-five years.

         ¶7 Degele's counsel likewise recommended that Degele be committed to the Director of DPHHS, but urged the Court to allow DPHHS to determine when Degele could be released. Defense counsel also argued that, because this was a commitment to DPHHS, the mandatory minimum sentence need not apply, including the twenty-five-year restriction upon parole eligibility.

         ¶8 At the conclusion of the hearing, the District Court expressed its substantial concerns about Degele's crimes and his victims, reasoning:

[Y]ou have changed two lives forever. They will never be the same, and that's for the rest of their life. On top of that you've changed two families forever through your action, and truthfully I've been at this job for almost 22 years, and this is, if not the most atrocious, certainly one of the most atrocious crimes that I have been a part of. . . . Mr. ...

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