Omnibus Hearings in Montana

Following an arrest for DUI in Montana, a defendant’s first hearing is an initial appearance. The purpose of that hearing is for the Court to advise the defendant of the charges against him and the maximum possible penalties he faces. It is usually combined with an arraignment, where the defendant enters a plea to the charges (usually not guilty). By pleading not guilty, the defendant sets the case in motion and toward a trial. As I’ve said before, must first time DUIs do not go to trial, but while it is pending – everyone will treat the case as if it is going to trial (or at least they should).

The next regularly scheduled hearing in a DUI case is the omnibus hearing. The name is often shortened to “omni.” Statutorily, the hearing is defined at 46-13-110, MCA which requires that it be held within a reasonable time following the entry of a not guilty plea but not less than 30 days before trial. The purpose of the hearing, according to the statute, is to expedite the procedures leading up to the trial of the defendant. Technically, the presence of the defendant is not required at the omnibus hearing. However, often the conditions of release following a DUI arrest require a person to attend all court hearings. This complicates it. On the other side of the issue, the Montana Supreme Court has decided that omnibus hearings constitute a “critical stage” of the proceeding and qualify as a hearing that the defendant has an absolute right to attend. For those reasons, if you are going to be absent from your omnibus hearing, it’s a good idea to inform the Court ahead of time.

The prosecution and the counsel for the defense are required to attend the hearing, and need to be prepared to discuss any pretrial matter appropriate to the case. This includes, without limitation:

(a) joinder and severance of offenses or defendants;

(b) double jeopardy;

(c) the need for exclusion of the public and for sealing records of any pretrial proceedings;

(d) notification of the existence of a plea agreement;

(e) disclosure and discovery motions;

(f) notice of reliance on certain defenses;

(g) notice of seeking persistent felony offender status;

(h) motion to suppress;

(i) motion to dismiss;

(j) motion for change of place of trial;

(k) reasonableness of bail; and

(l) stipulations.

The omnibus hearing provides a deadline for many of the motions listed above. For example, a party has a statutory mandate to bring a motion to suppress at or before the omnibus hearing, or at the latest by a subsequent date ordered by the court, and the consequence of failure to do so is waiver of the right to bring a motion to suppress. State v. VonBergan, 2003 MT 265.

Interestingly, the fact that the hearing is required by statute does not necessarily mean that the Courts are required to hold one. Several times, the Montana Supreme Court has found that the failure to hold an omnibus hearing did not constitute reversible error. In State v. Allum (2005 MT 150), the Court found that the Defendant was not entitled to reversal of his conviction for criminal trespass on the grounds that the municipal court did not hold an omnibus hearing, absent any showing that the defendant was prejudiced by the lack of hearing. Likewise, in State v. Hildreth (267 Mont. 423 (1994)), the Court found that the Defendant was not prejudiced by the trial court’s failure to hold an omnibus hearing in a prosecution for sexual assault.

State v. Flynn | MT Supreme Court DUI Case

State v. Flynn is a Montana Supreme Court decisions involving a DUI case. Specifically, the issue for the Court was whether the Deputy had particularized suspicion to stop Flynn’s vehicle. Particularized suspicion is an important concept in Montana DUI law, and something that I have discussed before on here.

A police officer must have a particularized suspicion in order to stop a vehicle in Montana. To show sufficient cause to stop a vehicle, the State must show 1) objective data from which an experienced officer can make certain inferences; and 2) a resulting suspicion that the occupant of the vehicle is or has been engaged in wrongdoing or was witness to criminal activity.

In Flynn’s case, the Deputy testified that he saw Flynn’s truck cross the fog line three separate times over the course of about .3 miles. The question in the case was whether this justified stopping his vehicle (a stop which resulted in a DUI arrest).

Flynn’s attorney made a number of arguments, one being that under State v. Lafferty, crossing the fog line does not justify a traffic stop. The Montana Supreme Court clarified that Lafferty stated that crossing the fog line was not illegal. But an officer does not need to witness illegal behavior to form a particularized suspicion.

The Court also noted that the particularized suspicion analysis must focus on what the officer knew at the time of the stop – and that he doesn’t need to consider every possible legitimate excuse a driver may have.

With these things in mind, the Court found that the officer did have a sufficient particularized suspicion to initiate the stop.

Call me today at 406-752-6373 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your DUI case.

Acknowledgement of Rights in Montana

If you have been accused of Drunk Driving, when you enter a plea to the charges of DUI you will also need to sign an acknowledgement of rights. If you have retained an attorney, you DUI lawyer may be able to file a document with the Court stating that he has explained your rights to you. Those rights come from a combination of the federal constitution, the state constitution, and Montana law.

Although it isn’t an exhaustive list of every right you enjoy as someone accused of a crime in the U.S., it is a pretty good outline of the major ones. For example, as I have talked about numerous times before, the prosecution must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. YOU ARE PRESUMED TO BE INNOCENT. Too often we just pay that phrase lip service and forget what it really means. But it is the cornerstone of our justice system and something everyone needs to be reminded of.

You also have to the right to appear before a judge or magistrate.

You have the right to remain silent and refuse to testify during any stage of the proceedings. Your silence does nto imply any wrongdoing on your part and cannot be used against you.

You have the right to enter a plea of not guilty and to have a trial by a judge or a jury.

You have the right to a speedy and public trial within six months of your entry of a not guilty plea.

You have the right to confront witnesses called to testify against you,a nd to cross examine those witnesses.

You have the right to present evidence in your defense at trial and to comel the attendance of witnesses with subpoenas issued by the Court.

You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, you may ask the Court to appoint one for you. A public defender will be appointed if you qualify financially.

The problem with rights are that they need to be protected. Vigilantly. Or else people tend to walk all over them. One of my most important jobs as a DUI defense attorney is to know all the rights my clients have, and be on the constant lookout for anyone trying to violate them.

If you are unsure what rights you have in a DUI case, please call me today to schedule a free meeting to discuss your situation. My number is 406-752-6373 and I am always happy to discuss my favorite topic: protecting the rights of those accused of a crime.

A Montana DUI Jury Trial

For people accused of DUI, or any crime, in Montana, a large number of constitutional protections apply. These include protections against unlawful search and seizure, the protection against Double Jeopardy, and the right to a jury trial. As I’ve discussed before, the State must prove all the elements of a charge beyond a reasonable doubt. The person (or people) they must prove this to is called the fact finder. For both misdemeanor DUIs and felony DUIs, the defendant has a constitutional right to select a jury trial.

In a jury trial, the fact finder is the jury. Citizens from the county where the trial is taking place will make up the jury. For example, if you are charged with DUI in Flathead County, Montana – the jurors will come from Flathead County. If you are charged with DUI in Lake County, Montana – the jurors will come from Lake County.

The jury should consist of people who know nothing (or as little as possible) about you and the facts of this case. The reason for this is very important. Only admissible evidence can be considered by the jury when they are reaching their verdict. And everything that is printed in the newspaper may not be admissible. Everything that your neighbor might know about the case might not be admissible. If a jury member comes to the trial already knowing things that should not be considered, it is ridiculous to think that they will completely forget that fact for the purposes of the trial. In fact, it is probably ridiculous to think that they won’t tell their fellow jurors what they know. Everyone likes to know a secret.

In a jury trial, the jury considers the admissible evidence and then decides whether the State has proven the elements of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury finds that the State failed to prove even one element beyond a reasonable doubt, they should find the defendant not guilty. How this works in practice is a different matter, and one I would be happy to discuss with you. I offer a free consultations to answer exactly these kinds of questions. Call me at (406) 752-6373 to schedule your free meeting.