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.

Call Now for a Free Case Review and Consultation
(406) 752-6373

or Click Here to Contact me Online