Submitted on Briefs: April 10, 2019
FROM: District Court of the First Judicial District, In and
For the County of Lewis and Clark, Cause No. BDC 2017-35
Honorable Michael F. McMahon, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, Alexander H.
Pyle, Assistant Appellate Defender
Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Madison
L. Mattioli, Assistant Attorney General
Gallagher, Lewis and Clark County Attorney, Stephanie Robles,
Deputy County Attorney
Gustafson, Justice delivered the Opinion of the Court.
Kena Annette Holland (Holland) appeals the Order on
Defendant's Appeal issued by the First Judicial District
Court, Lewis and Clark County, on May 17, 2017. We reverse
and remand for a new trial.
We restate the issue on appeal as follows:
the Justice Court err by permitting the State to introduce
evidence of the Defendant's prior DUI convictions in an
Aggravated DUI trial?
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On August 14, 2016, Kristen Blyseth (Blyseth), an employee at
McDonald's, called Helena police to report a possible
drunk driver who had just gone through the McDonald's
drive-thru. Blyseth stated that the female driver, later
identified as Holland, was drinking from a beer bottle.
Blyseth informed police that the driver was driving a
"green truck" and provided its license plate
number. Dispatch alerted patrol units of this information.
Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Deputy Bradley Bragg
(Deputy Bragg) was on patrol when he received the call from
dispatch and began to look for Holland's vehicle. Deputy
Bragg observed Holland's vehicle traveling on North
Montana Avenue and turned around to get behind it. Another
car turned onto the road and got between Deputy Bragg and
Holland's vehicle. Deputy Bragg testified that he
observed Holland cross the fog line once and the center line
twice-though this is not visible on his in-car video-and
activated his overhead lights to perform a traffic stop of
Holland. Holland pulled over in the entrance to the Evergreen
Trailer Court on North Montana Avenue.
Deputy Bragg made contact with Holland at her vehicle and
informed her of the reason for the stop. Holland behaved
strangely and had trouble getting Deputy Bragg her license
and registration. Deputy Bragg did not smell alcohol on
Holland at this time. Deputy Bragg asked Holland to step out
of her truck to perform numerous field sobriety tests. Deputy
Bragg had Holland perform the horizontal gaze nystagmus
(HGN), lack of convergence, walk-and-turn, one-leg-stand, and
modified Romberg tests, as well as recite the alphabet.
Holland showed no clues of impairment on some tests and
several clues of impairment on others. Based on the
totality of the circumstances, Deputy Bragg arrested Holland
for DUI. Deputy Bragg read Holland the implied consent
advisory and requested that Holland take a blood test.
Holland agreed to take the blood test, and Deputy Bragg
transported her to St. Peter's Hospital for a blood draw.
Holland's blood alcohol level (BAC) was measured to be
0.079, and she also tested positive for an inactive,
non-impairing THC metabolite.
On August 15, 2016, Holland was charged with Aggravated DUI,
2nd Offense, in violation of § 61-8-465(1)(e), MCA, by
Affidavit and Order re: Probable Cause in the Lewis and Clark
County Justice Court (Justice Court). On the morning of jury trial
in the Justice Court, Holland moved to bifurcate
trial-suggesting that the Justice Court instruct the jury on
the elements of standard DUI, and then, if the jury
determined Holland was guilty of DUI, stipulating to or
presenting evidence of Holland's prior DUIs to meet the
aggravating element. Holland argued that the evidence of her
prior DUIs was too prejudicial under M. R. Evid. 403. The
Justice Court denied Holland's motion, and the State
referenced Holland's prior DUI convictions in its opening
argument, had Deputy Bragg testify to Holland's prior
DUIs, and referenced them again during its closing argument.
The jury convicted Holland of Aggravated DUI. Holland was
then sentenced by the Justice Court for the offense of
Aggravated DUI, 3rd Offense. Holland appealed the Justice
Court's denial of her motion to exclude the prior DUI
evidence to the First Judicial District Court, Lewis and
Clark County. After the parties briefed the matter, the
District Court affirmed the Justice Court's decision.
Upon Holland's appeal from Justice Court, the District
Court functioned as an intermediate appellate court.
See §§ 3-5-303 and 3-10-115, MCA. 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.
State v. Akers, 2017 MT 311, ¶ 9, 389 Mont.
531, 408 P.3d 142. We examine the record independently of the
district court's decision, reviewing the trial
court's findings of fact under the clearly erroneous
standard, its discretionary rulings for abuse of discretion,
and its legal ...