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State v. Jones

Supreme Court of Montana

January 14, 2020

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
JEROMEY GLENN JONES, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: October 16, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DC 16-627 Honorable Robert L. Deschamps, III, Presiding Judge.

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

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Mardell Ployhar, Assistant Attorney General. Helena, Montana Kirsten H. Pabst, Missoula County Attorney, Ryan Mickelson, Deputy County Attorney, Missoula, Montana

          OPINION

          Laurie McKinnon Justice.

         ¶1 On May 31, 2017, a jury in the Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County, found Jeromey Glenn Jones (Jones) guilty of assault with a weapon and aggravated assault. For each count, the District Court imposed a ten-year sentence, with five years suspended, and ran the sentences concurrently. Jones appeals his convictions, raising two issues:

         1. Did the District Court violate Jones's constitutional right to self-representation by refusing his request to represent himself at the February 14, 2017 omnibus hearing, but otherwise allowing Jones to represent himself for the duration of his case?

         2. Did the District Court err in denying Jones a new trial after the court considered the victim's post-trial recantations and the overwhelming evidence of Jones's guilt produced at trial?

         ¶2 We affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 On November 15, 2016, Jones and his girlfriend, Destinee Dietsch (Dietsch), were arguing in their trailer after Dietsch confronted Jones about pornography she discovered on his phone. Jones became violent, punching and kicking Dietsch several times; slamming her head into the trailer wall; and strangling Dietsch, nearly causing her to pass out. Jones used a knife to cut Dietsch's face around her eye and then threatened to kill her, holding the knife to her face. Dietsch escaped and, despite cold weather, ran to the Town Pump a half-mile away without shoes. A Town Pump employee, Ayla Godoy, saw Dietsch come "stumbling through the door" with "blood all over her face." Dietsch was very upset and exclaimed, "he's going to kill me." When a store employee who knew Jones and Dietsch announced that Jones was coming, Dietsch tried to crawl over Godoy and a table to get away from him. Employees contacted the police and attempted to "close her wounds" so Dietsch was "not bleeding everywhere."

         ¶4 Law enforcement responded immediately. Officers identified Dietsch, who was distraught and crying. While the officers were talking to Dietsch, Jones entered the store. Jones was defensive and voiced displeasure at law enforcement, clenching his fists and standing in a "bladed" position. Following his arrest, a knife was found in Jones's pocket that matched the description Dietsch gave of the knife used to cut her. Officers also observed Jones had numerous scratch marks up and down his forearms, wrists and elbows, which were consistent with defensive wounds made by a victim trying to escape an assault.

         ¶5 Dietsch was taken to the hospital for treatment. She had a broken nose; her face was swollen; she had bruising around her neck; and scratches, abrasions, and bruises all over her back. Dietsch explained to a nurse that she was kicked, strangled, and abused by her boyfriend.

         ¶6 Dietsch gave law enforcement permission to search the trailer where she lived with Jones. Inside, officers observed blood on a sheet and damage to the wall caused by the impact of Dietsch's head during the assault.

         ¶7 Jones was initially represented by public defender Reed Mandelko (Mandelko). On January 10, 2017, the District Court held an omnibus hearing and Mandelko prepared an omnibus form. Jones indicated he would not sign the form and that he did not want Mandelko to represent him. Jones said he wanted to represent himself. The court expressed it was reluctant to allow Jones to represent himself and questioned Jones extensively regarding his educational background and legal training. The court warned Jones that other defendants who have chosen to represent themselves "end up making a mess of things" and asked Jones, "[a]re you willing to conform with the rules that I set down on how to proceed in a courtroom?" Jones replied, "[y]es, sir." The court granted Jones's request to represent himself and continued the omnibus hearing one week to allow Jones to read the omnibus form and make any changes he saw necessary.

         ¶8 On January 17, 2017, the court held another omnibus hearing. Jones represented himself and Mandelko was present as standby counsel. The court asked Jones if he had an omnibus form ready. Jones replied, "I do have the omnibus form but it was what Mr. Mandelko signed and filled out and I do not agree with that." The court responded that "you have the ability, sir, as your own attorney to fill out that omnibus form" and the court tried to go through the omnibus form with Jones. Jones, however, was unresponsive and did not answer the court's questions. Jones kneeled down on the floor of the courtroom, crying. The court expressed concern "in view of this behavior in the courtroom, if we should have the defendant's fitness evaluated." Jones stated, "I'm sorry, your honor, I just got given something that I can't get my head right." Following Jones's emotional behavior, the court concluded, "I don't find that you're at the minimum, competent to represent yourself." Jones replied, "I'm really not sir." As a result, the court reinstated Mandelko as counsel. Jones then indicated, "I want nothing to do with this man." Mandelko requested a two-week continuance of the omnibus hearing. The court rescheduled the omnibus hearing, again stating, "I really am concerned about his fitness."

         ¶9 The record reflects a third omnibus hearing was held February 7, 2017, although Jones has not provided this Court with a transcript. The minutes, however, indicate that Mandelko presented the court with a completed omnibus form, which Jones refused to sign. The court apparently questioned Jones, but he refused to answer. After this omnibus hearing, Mandelko filed a motion requesting a hearing on Jones's desire to represent himself. The court scheduled a hearing for February 14, 2017.

         ¶10 On February 14, 2017, Mandelko indicated to the court that Jones still wished to represent himself. The court recalled that Jones had previously "melted down" and was concerned that Jones might not be competent to represent himself. Mandelko explained that Jones was emotional because for a brief time there was a question whether Dietsch was alive. Mandelko suspected that Dietsch had committed suicide due to information he discovered on Facebook. Mandelko had been corresponding with an investigator to confirm Dietsch's death. Jones was provided these emails during the omnibus and mistook the contents to indicate that ...


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