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State v. Kurtz

Supreme Court of Montana

June 4, 2019

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
DAVID DEAN KURTZ, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: April 17, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause No. DC 15-438 Honorable Rod Souza, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, Danny Tenenbaum, Assistant Appellate Defender

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Roy Brown, Assistant Attorney General

          Scott D. Twito, Yellowstone County Attorney, Morgan E. Shaw, Deputy County Attorney

          Beth Baker, Justice delivered the Opinion of the Court.

          OPINION

          Beth Baker, Justice.

         ¶1 David Kurtz appeals the Thirteenth Judicial District Court's order denying his motion to dismiss for violation of his right to a speedy trial. Kurtz argues that applying this Court's established speedy trial standards, the 422-day delay in resolving his felony driving under the influence charge violated his constitutional rights. We reverse and remand for dismissal of Kurtz's charge.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 A Montana Highway Patrol trooper arrested Kurtz in Yellowstone County on May 3, 2015, and the State charged him with felony driving under the influence of alcohol and misdemeanor driving while license suspended. Kurtz pleaded not guilty. The District Court set bond at $20, 000, which Kurtz was unable to post. The District Court initially scheduled trial for August 17, 2015. Kurtz filed a motion to suppress on July 22, 2015, contesting the legality of the traffic stop. One week later, the State moved to postpone the trial because the results from the crime lab had not yet been received. Kurtz did not oppose this motion; he agreed the trial should be postponed pending the toxicology results. The court vacated the August trial date and set the trial for September 21, 2015.

         ¶3 The District Court held a hearing on Kurtz's motion to suppress on August 31, 2015, and denied the motion in late November. On December 14, 2015, the court reset the trial for January 4, 2016, noting that the September trial date had "passed with no resolution." Four days later, Kurtz's counsel e-mailed the District Court's judicial assistant requesting the court "not call a jury for January 4, 2016." The judicial assistant replied that if there is not going to be a trial, Kurtz would have to file a motion to continue with a waiver.

         ¶4 On December 21, 2015, Kurtz filed a status report requesting that the District Court vacate the January 4 trial and set a change of plea hearing. No hearing was set. The January trial date passed. On April 12, 2016, the State requested the court to reset the trial. The following day, the court set a new trial date for May 23, 2016. Kurtz filed a motion to dismiss on May 11, 2016, alleging that his right to a speedy trial was violated. The May trial date passed. The District Court held a hearing on Kurtz's motion to dismiss on June 1, 2016, and denied it three weeks later. The court found that the length of delay and reasons for the delay weighed in favor of finding a speedy trial violation but concluded that Kurtz's response to the delay and the prejudice to Kurtz did not weigh in Kurtz's favor. The court determined that, on balance and because Kurtz's defense was not impaired, Kurtz was not denied a speedy trial.

         ¶5 Kurtz entered a change of plea with the District Court four days later. Kurtz pleaded guilty to felony driving under the influence of alcohol and waived his right to a presentence investigation. On the State's motion, the court dismissed the misdemeanor charge. It sentenced Kurtz to the maximum, thirteen-month commitment with the Department of Corrections, followed by a five-year suspended sentence. Because Kurtz's pretrial incarceration was twenty-six days longer than his thirteen-month sentence of imprisonment, Kurtz was released immediately and awarded a $2, 470 credit against the $5, 000 fine imposed.

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         ¶6 On appeal of a speedy trial ruling, we review a district court's factual findings for clear error. State v. Ariegwe, 2007 MT 204, ¶ 119, 338 Mont. 442, 167 P.3d 815. The trial court's findings are "clearly erroneous if they are not supported by substantial credible evidence, if the court has misapprehended the effect of the evidence, or if a review of the record leaves this Court with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made." Ariegwe, ¶ 119. Whether the factual circumstances establish a speedy trial violation is a question of constitutional law that we review de novo. Ariegwe, ¶ 119.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶7 The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article II, Section 24, of the Montana Constitution both guarantee a criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial. If the delay between accusation and trial exceeds 200 days, this Court must examine speedy trial violations under the Ariegwe four-factor test. Ariegwe, ¶ 41. The test balances: (1) the length of delay; (2) the reasons for the delay; (3) the accused's response to the delay; and (4) the prejudice to the accused. Ariegwe, ¶ 34. "No one factor is dispositive by itself; rather, the factors are related and must be considered together with such other circumstances as may be relevant." Ariegwe, ¶ 112.

         Factor One: The ...


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