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City of Helena v. Parsons

Supreme Court of Montana

March 5, 2019

CITY OF HELENA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
RONALD SCOTT PARSONS, Defendant and Appellant.

          Argued and Submitted: July 25, 2018

          For Appellant: Lance P. Jasper (argued), F. Peter Landsiedel, Reep, Bell, Laird & Jasper, P.C., Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Mardell Ployhar, Assistant Attorney General (argued), Helena, Montana Thomas J. Jodoin, Helena City Attorney, Todd Douglas Baker, Deputy Helena City Attorney, Helena, Montana

          OPINION

          DIRK M. SANDEFUR JUSTICE

         ¶1 Ronald Scott Parsons appeals the judgment of the Montana First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County, affirming his convictions for misdemeanor negligent endangerment and reckless driving in the City of Helena Municipal Court. We address the following restated issue on appeal:

         Whether the Municipal Court erroneously precluded evidence, argument, and jury instruction on § 46-6-502, MCA (citizen arrest authority), as a fact defense relevant to the sufficiency of the State's proof of the elements of the offenses?

         ¶2 We reverse and remand.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 On a March morning in 2016, City of Helena police were engaged in an extended high-speed chase with a fleeing motorcycle rider through residential neighborhoods, school zones, and along main thoroughfares in Helena. While northbound on Benton Avenue toward Custer Avenue in a pickup truck with a boat trailer in tow, Parsons first encountered the chase as the motorcycle and pursuing police car were oncoming southbound. Parsons observed the motorcycle traveling at a high rate of speed with the police car in hot pursuit-emergency lights and siren activated. After turning eastbound onto Custer Avenue after the chase passed by, Parsons again saw the speeding motorcycle and pursuing police car, this time rapidly approaching him from behind as he proceeded on Custer toward Montana Avenue. Seeing the fleeing motorcycle as an imminent risk to public safety and intent on stopping it to allow the pursuing police to apprehend the driver, Parsons slowed and pulled his pickup across the oncoming westbound lane, thereby fully blocking both lanes in an attempt to force the motorcycle to stop. Not intent on stopping, the motorcyclist instead tried to drive up the curb to go around the roadblock on the sidewalk. However, the motorcycle crashed on the curb, resulting in injury to the rider. The pursuing police immediately arrived, stopped, and arrested the injured motorcyclist, ultimately charging him with various offenses related to the chase. Police also later charged Parsons with misdemeanor negligent endangerment and reckless driving in violation of §§ 45-5-208(1) and 61-8-301(1), MCA.

         ¶4 At his subsequent jury trial, on the State's motion, the Municipal Court precluded Parsons from presenting evidence and argument that, rather than in negligent, willful, or wanton disregard for the safety of others as alleged by the State, he acted reasonably under the circumstances to assist police in apprehending the fleeing motorcyclist as authorized by § 46-6-502, MCA (citizen arrest authority). Ruling that the authority to make a citizen's arrest did not render Parsons immune from the charged offenses and that he lacked the requisite probable cause for a citizen's arrest in any event, the Municipal Court granted the State's motion in limine and further refused to instruct the jury on Parsons's authority to make a citizen's arrest. At the close of trial, the jury convicted Parsons of misdemeanor negligent endangerment and reckless driving as charged. After the District Court affirmed the Municipal Court judgment on intermediate appeal, Parsons timely appealed here.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶5 On appeal from a municipal court of record, district courts function as intermediate appellate courts with the scope of review "confined to review of the record and questions of law. . . ." Sections 3-5-303, 3-6-110(1), MCA; State v. Luke, 2014 MT 22, ¶ 9, 373 Mont. 398, 321 P.3d 70.[1] On appeal of a lower court judgment following intermediate appeal, we review the record independently of the district court as if appealed directly to this Court without intermediate review. State v. Maile, 2017 MT 154, ¶ 7, 388 Mont. 33, 396 P.3d 1270; Stanley v. Lemire, 2006 MT 304, ¶¶ 25-26, 334 Mont. 489, 148 P.3d 643. Upon our independent review, we review lower court findings of fact for clear error, conclusions of law de novo for correctness, and discretionary rulings for an abuse of discretion. City of Missoula v. Kroschel, 2018 MT 142, ¶ 8, 391 Mont. 457, 419 P.3d 1208; State v. Davis, 2016 MT 206, ¶¶ 5-6, 384 Mont. 388, 378 P.3d 1192. Trial courts have broad discretion in formulating jury instructions on the applicable law. State v. Kaarma, 2017 MT 24, ¶ 7, 386 Mont. 243, 390 P.3d 609. We review jury instructions as a whole for whether they fully, correctly, and fairly instruct the jury on the law applicable to the facts at issue in the case. State v. Dunfee, 2005 MT 147, ¶ 20, 327 Mont. 335, 114 P.3d 217.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶6 Whether the Municipal Court erroneously precluded evidence, argument, and jury instruction on § 46-6-502, MCA (citizen arrest authority), as a fact defense relevant to the sufficiency of the State's proof of the elements of the offenses?

         ¶7 Parsons asserts that his authority and intent to make a citizen's arrest were critically relevant jury considerations as to whether he acted in negligent, willful, or wanton disregard for the safety of others as alleged by the State. The State contrarily asserts that Parsons's authority and intent to make a citizen's arrest was not relevant to whether he committed the charged ...


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