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December 16, 2010

Notable Montana Supreme Court ruling on sentencing rights and procedure

As reporting in this effective local article, earlier this week the Montana Supreme Court "affirmed a one-year jail sentence for former Great Falls Mayor Gayle Morris for his role in the prostitution investigators said occurred at a bar and strip club west of Great Falls."  Though the nature of the crime first caught my attention, the issues addressed by the Montana Supreme Court in this opinion provides an effective primer on various sentencing rights (and their limits). 

Here is a brief accounting of the case and the ruling from the press article:

In June, Morris, who is a proprietor of the club, was sentenced to a year in jail after pleading no contest to accountability to prostitution and obstructing a peace officer.  He is serving his sentence at the Cascade County jail.  Morris was expecting a suspended sentence as part of a plea agreement he reached with prosecutors in which he agreed to plead no contest to misdemeanors in exchange for dropping a felony count of promoting prostitution.

However, District Judge Thomas McKittrick sentenced Morris to the maximum sentence of a year in jail.  Morris appealed to the Supreme Court, claiming the sentence amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, and violated state sentencing policy.

As part of his appeal, Morris argued McKittrick illegally considered his status as a former mayor and county commissioner in the sentence.  Morris also contended that he was punished for an alleged lack of remorse.

The state Supreme Court disagreed, saying the lower court provided eight valid reasons for the sentence. "Notably, the district court was influenced by the fact that Morris' previous public service indicated he should have known better," the court's ruling states. "Furthermore, when Morris signed the plea agreement, he was more than well aware of the potential maximum penalty.  We conclude that the district court's sentences were not arbitrary and did not exceed the bounds of reason."

December 16, 2010 at 05:55 PM | Permalink

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