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State v. Holland

Supreme Court of Montana

June 4, 2019

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
KENA ANNETTE HOLLAND, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: April 10, 2019

          APPEAL 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

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, Alexander H. Pyle, Assistant Appellate Defender

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Madison L. Mattioli, Assistant Attorney General

          Leo J. Gallagher, Lewis and Clark County Attorney, Stephanie Robles, Deputy County Attorney

          Ingrid Gustafson, Justice delivered the Opinion of the Court.


          Ingrid Gustafson, Justice.

         ¶1 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.

         ¶2 We restate the issue on appeal as follows:

         Did the Justice Court err by permitting the State to introduce evidence of the Defendant's prior DUI convictions in an Aggravated DUI trial?


         ¶3 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.

         ¶4 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.[1] 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.[2]

         ¶5 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).[3] 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.

         ¶6 The jury convicted Holland of Aggravated DUI. Holland was then sentenced by the Justice Court for the offense of Aggravated DUI, 3rd Offense.[4] 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. Holland appeals.


         ¶7 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 ...

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