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City of Great Falls v. Taggart

Supreme Court of Montana

March 26, 2019

CITY OF GREAT FALLS, Plaintiff and Appellee,
JOSEPH K. TAGGART, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: December 12, 2018

          District Court of the Eighth Judicial District, In and For the County of Cascade, Cause No. ADC 17-1 Honorable Gregory Pinski, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, Koan Mercer, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Robert Stutz, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Neil Anthon, Great Falls City Attorney, Cassidy R. Blomgren, Deputy City Attorney, Great Falls, 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 In a bench trial, the Great Falls Municipal Court convicted Joseph Taggart (Taggart) of first-offense Partner or Family Member Assault (PFMA). Taggart did not appear for trial. The City of Great Falls (City) prosecuted its case without calling the victim, who was uncooperative, to testify at trial. Taggart appealed his conviction to the Eighth Judicial District Court, Cascade County. The District Court affirmed Taggart's conviction, concluding that certain statements Taggart made after his arrest, which the City used to establish Taggart's relationship to the victim, were not the result of custodial interrogation. Taggart also challenged the sufficiency of the evidence establishing his relationship to the victim. The District Court concluded the evidence was sufficient to establish the crime of PFMA. Taggart appeals.

         ¶3 In the early morning hours of June 2, 2016, William Arnot (Arnot) was working at Five Loaves Bakery in Great Falls when he heard a woman screaming outside and the sounds of a physical altercation. Arnot ran outside the bakery and saw a man pinning a woman to the ground on her back. As Arnot would describe, the man was "sledgehammering" the woman's face with his fists. Arnot yelled at the assailant who quickly fled. The woman stood up and rushed to Arnot, crying out for him to call the police. Arnot saw that the woman was bleeding from her mouth, spitting up blood, and appeared to have a broken nose. He brought her inside, called the police, requested an ambulance, and helped the woman with her injuries while they waited for emergency responders.

         ¶4 Great Falls Police Department Officer Cobb responded and identified the woman as Ms. Conley. Officer Cobb observed Ms. Conley's injuries, but she was generally uncooperative. She would not allow the ambulance to take her to the hospital, and she would not allow Officer Cobb to take her to the police station to photograph her injuries. She did, however, identify Taggart as her assailant, and she mentioned she was upset because Taggart accused her of cheating on him. Officer Cobb determined he had probable cause to arrest Taggart for PFMA but was unable to locate Taggart at that time. He issued a citation for Taggart's arrest that he left for future shifts to serve on Taggart.

         ¶5 Later that day, Sergeant Anthony Munkres contacted Ms. Conley and learned where he could locate Taggart. Sergeant Munkres proceeded to that location, made contact with Taggart, confirmed his identity through Taggart himself and dispatch, and proceeded to arrest him. Sergeant Munkres did not read Taggart his Miranda warnings. While Sergeant Munkres arrested Taggart, Taggart asked what his charges were. Sergeant Munkres responded that the charges were for misdemeanor PFMA, and Taggart stated the charges "should be higher than that." While the two walked to Sergeant Munkres's patrol vehicle, Taggart spoke to Sergeant Munkres about his life. He told Sergeant Munkres that the location they were at was his mother's house and that his mother was watching his and Ms. Conley's children there. Taggart described them as "our children," which led Sergeant Munkres to believe Taggart and Ms. Conley shared children.

         ¶6 The Great Falls Municipal Court held a bench trial in absentia regarding Taggart's PFMA charge. Arnot, Officer Cobb, and Sergeant Munkres all testified, but Ms. Conley did not. Taggart's counsel raised a confrontation clause objection when, through Officer Cobb's testimony, the City sought to introduce Ms. Conley's identification of Taggart and statements about her and Taggart's relationship. Taggart's defense counsel also asserted Sergeant Munkres violated Taggart's constitutional rights when he had a conversation with Taggart about sharing children with Ms. Conley after Sergeant Munkres arrested Taggart. The Municipal Court overruled each objection and convicted Taggart of PFMA.

         ¶7 Taggart appealed to the District Court where his only argument was that the Municipal Court erred by admitting his statements to Sergeant Munkres about his relationship with Ms. Conley. Taggart also argued that there was insufficient evidence to establish a partner or familial relationship between him and Ms. Conley. The District Court affirmed Taggart's conviction.

         ¶8 Taggart appeals to this Court, arguing: (1) the Municipal Court erred by admitting the statements Taggart made to Sergeant Munkres because Sergeant Munkres never read Taggart his Miranda rights and Taggart made the statements pursuant to a custodial interrogation; (2) the Municipal Court erred by admitting Ms. Conley's statements through Officer Cobb's testimony in violation of Taggart's constitutional right to confront witnesses against him; (3) the Municipal Court erred by admitting evidence of Taggart's post-arrest silence in violation of Taggert's constitutional right against self-incrimination; and (4) taken together, the violations warrant reversal as cumulative error.

         ¶9 When district courts function as intermediate appellate courts for appeals from lower courts of record, we review the appeal de novo as though it were originally filed in this Court. Section 3-5-303, MCA; State v. Akers, 2017 MT 311, ¶ 9, 389 Mont. 531, 408 P.3d 142. When an appellate court reviews the grant or denial of a motion to suppress, the appellate court determines whether the trial court's findings of fact are clearly erroneous and whether the court correctly interpreted the law and applied it to those facts. State v. Nixon, 2013 MT 81, ¶ 15, 369 Mont. 359, 298 P.3d 408. Generally, an appellate court does not address issues raised for the first time on appeal. Akers, ¶ 10. 1 Plain error review is an exception to this general rule where we may consider issues raised for the first time on appeal. Akers, ¶ 10. "[C]ourts invoke plain error review to correct error not objected to at trial but that affects the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of judicial proceedings." State v. Finley, 276 Mont. 126, 134, 915 P.2d 208, 213 (1996), overruled on other grounds by State v. Gallagher, 2001 MT 39, ¶ 21, 304 Mont. 215, 19 P.3d 817. To reverse a decision for plain error, the appellant must: (1) demonstrate that the claimed ...

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