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State v. Anderson

Supreme Court of Montana

August 13, 2019

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
BRUCE ARNOLD ANDERSON, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: June 5, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Third Judicial District, In and For the County of Powell, Cause No. DC-2016-06B Honorable Ray Dayton, Presiding Judge.

          For Appellant: John E. Smith, Colin M. Stephens, Nicholas K. Brooke, Smith & Stephens, P.C., Missoula, Montana.

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Brad Fjeldheim, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana.

          Lewis K. Smith, Powell County Attorney, Deer Lodge, Montana.



         ¶1 Bruce Arnold Anderson (Anderson) appeals from his conviction in the Third Judicial District Court, Powell County, of sexual intercourse without consent, a felony in violation of § 45-5-503(1), MCA; burglary, a felony in violation of § 45-6-204, MCA; and sexual assault, a misdemeanor in violation of § 45-5-502, MCA. We address the following issue, and reverse and remand:

         Did the District Court abuse its discretion by denying Anderson's motion to strike juror M.J. for cause?


         ¶2 On August 20, 2015, Bruce Anderson and Shelley Locher spent the evening socializing and drinking alcohol. Afterward, Anderson drove Locher back to her house on his motorcycle. Locher could only recall "snapshots" of what happened next. She described being physically incapacitated but cognizant of Anderson climbing through her bedroom window, lying in bed beside her, and then leaving the next morning. She also described feeling "very sore" and swollen throughout her "whole lower pelvic area" including inside and outside her vagina. According to Locher, Anderson returned to her house later that day, walked downstairs to the basement where she was doing laundry, and grabbed her breasts. Locher claims she pushed Anderson away and told him to leave.

         ¶3 Locher told law enforcement about the alleged assault in November 2015 and participated in a forensic interview. The State filed charges against Anderson in January 2016, alleging he entered Locher's residence through the window and engaged in sexual intercourse with her without her consent. A jury trial was held in March 2017.

         ¶4 During voir dire, the prospective jurors were asked general questions about whether they could follow the instructions and law given to them by the judge, and render a verdict after listening to the evidence. Defense counsel explained the presumption of innocence and Anderson's right not to testify and asked, "Would anybody hold that against Mr. Anderson if he doesn't testify?" In response, Defense counsel noted, "Everybody's shaking their heads no." At the close of voir dire, the District Court informed the jury panel that they would be asked to leave the courtroom while the attorneys exercised preemptory challenges and then brought back in, at which time the final jury members would be seated. Before dismissing the jurors, the District Court said, "don't be talking about the case among yourselves. Don't be forming or expressing an opinion about the case. Just talk about the weather, what you saw on TV last night as long as it's not about the case." After the jurors left, the parties each exercised their preemptory challenges. The District Court confirmed the list of selected jurors, and asked for all the potential jurors to be brought back into the courtroom to be seated and sworn in.

         ¶5 During the short recess before seating of the jurors, the bailiff informed the court that a juror, M.J., had stated to the bailiff that "he is pretty sure the Defendant is guilty" based upon the juror's assessment of the wording used by defense counsel during voir dire. The court immediately held a meeting in chambers with counsel to discuss the juror's comments. The court said, "I guess the State would say, let's proceed. Got a juror saying the guy's guilty before we even have any evidence. What's the Defense say about it?" Defense counsel suggested M.J. be dismissed for cause. The court asked for M.J. to be brought into chambers for questioning by the parties and noted a different juror from the panel could be substituted if the court decided to dismiss him.

         ¶6 During questioning in chambers, the State asked M.J. whether he had already formed an opinion about the culpability of Anderson. M.J. stated, "I have a leaning." When asked to clarify, he said, "Yeah, like, like just based upon how Defense counsel was asking questions to all jurors. There was a few wordings [sic] that made me uh believe I know how he's going to push the defense-what, what the main arguments are going to entail." M.J. continued, "I don't know if I could be able to push those sort of things all the way to the side." The State asked M.J. if he could listen to the evidence, follow the judge's instructions, and suspend his decision until the close of trial when all the evidence has been presented. M.J. responded, "I think I can 100 percent try, but life moves forward and there's certain things from my past, ...

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