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Chiefstick v. Kaululaau

Supreme Court of Montana

June 18, 2019



         Jason Chiefstick petitions this Court for habeas corpus relief, indicating that the Board of Pardons and Parole (Board) should have granted his parole and that the Board denied his due process rights when it issued its denial. Chiefstick also lists other issues and states that he has sentences from several counties. The Special Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Corrections (Department or DOC) has filed a response in compliance with an April 2, 2019 Order.

         Chiefstick has criminal convictions, primarily for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs (DUI), dating back to 1999. Many of his claims are not redressable through this petition.

         The Department provides much detail about Chiefstick's criminal history as taken from a 2017 notice of intent to seek persistent felony offender (PFO) status, filed by the Hill County Attorney's Office. In January 2000, the Hill County District Court sentenced Chiefstick to a three-year DOC commitment for felony partner or family member assault (PFMA). The court also required Chiefstick to register as a violent offender. The District Court later suspended the sentence after Chiefstick completed the Treasure State Correctional Training Center. Then, in October 2001, the court revoked the suspended sentence, re-imposing a three-year DOC commitment.

         In November 2001, the Cascade County District Court sentenced Chiefstick for failure to keep his violent offender registration current and imposed a suspended three-year DOC commitment. In July 2004, the Yellowstone County District Court sentenced him to a ten-year DOC commitment for felony criminal endangerment with seven years suspended (hereinafter Yellowstone County sentence). In January 2006, the Musselshell County District Court sentenced Chiefstick for felony DUI by imposing a thirteen-month DOC commitment, followed by a suspended five-year term to the Montana State Prison (MSP) to run consecutively with the Yellowstone County sentence.

         In May 2007, the Hill County District Court imposed a thirteen-month DOC commitment, followed by a consecutive, suspended five-year MSP term to run consecutively to his other sentences. The Hill County District Court revoked that suspended sentence twice-in May 2012 and in February 2013. Chiefstick ultimately received a five-year MSP sentence. The, Yellowstone County District Court also revoked his Yellowstone County sentence in 2007 and resentenced Chiefstick to the DOC for seven years with three years suspended to run consecutively to his other sentences.

         In September 2015, the Cascade County District Court accepted his guilty plea to felony DUI and imposed an unsuspended, five-year DOC term to run concurrently with his other sentences (hereinafter Cascade County sentence). In February 2018, the Musselshell County District Court revoked his sentence again and re-sentenced him to the DOC for a five-year commitment with no time suspended (hereinafter Musselshell County sentence). This Musselshell County sentence runs concurrently with his other sentences.

         On April 9, 2018, the Hill County District Court designated him a PFO after accepting his earlier pleas of guilty to felony DUI and criminal child endangerment. The District Court committed him to the DOC for a ten-year term with five years suspended to run concurrently with all other sentences (hereinafter Hill County sentence). He did not appeal.

         Chiefstick contends that his Musselshell County, Cascade County, and Hill County sentences are illegal "amounting to four charges that are DUI related." He claims that he has a longer term of imprisonment because he has not begun to serve his probationary term. Turning to his recent PFO designation in the Hill County sentence, he briefly lists where his counsel allegedly failed: (1) to designate Chiefstick as a non-violent felony offender; (2) to raise mitigating circumstances in his underlying criminal proceeding; and (3) to investigate revised PFO statutes. Alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, he claims that he entered an erroneous plea agreement concerning a PFO enhancement. Chiefstick also argues that the Board treated him differently during his appearance because of his Native American ancestry and because two other inmates with DUIs were granted parole. Chiefstick acknowledges that he suffers from the disease of alcoholism, and he requests that he be granted an opportunity to participate in treatment court.

         The Department responds that this Court should deny Chiefstick's petition. As directed by this Court's Order, the Department addresses Chiefstick's two viable issues concerning the Hill County sentence as a PFO and the denial of his parole. The Department states that Chiefstick was on parole and probation when he was charged in September 2017 in Hill County. The Department points out that Chiefstick committed his 2017 offense while having been earlier paroled from his Cascade County sentence and while serving his probationary term for his Musselshell County sentence.

         Addressing Chiefstick's claim that his PFO designation is inappropriate and illegal, the Department points out that the Hill County Attorney's Office served Chiefstick with a PFO notice in October 2017, and that Chiefstick did not object to the PFO notice then. In fact, the Department adds Chiefstick pled guilty to DUI and one of the two criminal child endangerment charges. The Department notes that the plea agreement stated that the court may seek enhanced penalties at sentencing because of the PFO designation.

         The Department points out, contrary to Chiefstick's assertions, that he is a violent offender, and therefore, Montana PFO statutes apply to him even with the 2017 legislative changes. Sections 46-18-502(1); 46-1-202(18), and 46-23-502(13), MCA. The Department adds that his convictions from his criminal history, including those convictions in tribal court, total twenty-two DUIs. Thus, the Department contends that § 46-1-202, and § 46-18-502, MCA, govern his PFO designation and sentencing.

         The Department explains that Chiefstick had six prior felony convictions, including a violent offense-felony PFMA-prior to the imposition of his Hill County sentence. The Department states that the Hill County District Court operated within its statutory authority by correctly designating him a PFO and by sentencing him accordingly to a ten-year DOC commitment with five years suspended. Section 46-18-502(1), MCA. The Department concludes that Chiefstick's claim about being illegally designated and sentenced as a PFO is without merit and should be denied.

         Next, the Department argues that Chiefstick's assertions about his parole denial and the accompanying reasons are without merit. The Department provides a transcript of his appearance before the Board. The Department states that parole is only granted after three conditions have been met in the Board's opinion. McDermott v. Mahoney, 2001 MT 89, ¶ 19, 305 Mont. 166, 24 P.3d 200. The Department then explains that his claim about "disparate treatment toward[] a Native American[, ]" cannot stand. The Department points out no disparity or discrimination exists because Chiefstick has not shown an equal protection claim, i.e., he was treated differently than similarly situated prisoners for racially discriminatory reasons. Furthermore, the Department adds: "the State's offer of grace to other offenders does not make Chiefstick's own sentences and incarceration illegal."

         The Department reminds this Court that habeas corpus relief is not available to determine whether violations of constitutional rights have occurred. Sage v. Gamble,279 Mont. 459, 463, 929 P.2d 822, 824 (1996); Gates v. Missoula County Comm'rs,235 Mont. 261, 262, 766 P.2d 884, 884-85 (1988). The Department submits that even when viewed in a favorable light, Chiefstick has not demonstrated an equal protection claim because he has not shown unequal treatment. The Department points to the two inmates referenced in Chiefstick's petition and explains that these inmates are not similarly situated because these inmates, as compared to Chiefstick, have: (1) a lower number of DUIs; (2) no violent offenses or history; (3) a different level of categorized risk for recidivism, and (4) no criminal endangerment convictions. The Department points out that Chiefstick was the only ...

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