State v. RSA, 2015 MT 202 (July 21, 2015) (Cotter, J.) (5-0, aff’d)
Issue: (1) Whether RSA was subject to pretrial punishment in violation of his due process rights when the district court held a critical stage hearing at which RSA was not present; (2) whether sufficient evidence supports RSA’s conviction of felony robbery; and (3) whether the district court erred in ruling that RSA’s affirmative defense of justifiable use of force required RSA to testify at trial.
Short Answer: (1) No; (2) yes; and (3) no.
Facts: RSA has a lengthy documented history of mental health issues, substantive abuse, and institutionalization. He has a juvenile record as well as an adult criminal history.
In September 2011, RSA stole a tool set from an Ace Hardware store. Eventually, a store employee tackled RSA and held him down while another employee called police. RSA kicked one man in the eye, another in the chest, and spit on both men. When the men let go of him, RSA grabbed an X-acto knife in the grass and threatened both men. Police arrived and RSA was arrested. One of the employees suffered a cut to his leg for which medical bills totaled $877, $471 of which was not covered by insurance.
Between arraignment and trial, RSA was taken into custody for a mental health exam and ordered by the court to the Montana State Hospital for a determination of whether he was fit to proceed. While he was there, the court conducted an emergency transport hearing to determine whether RSA should remain at MSH or be returned to jail. RSA was not present, as he was in full bed restraints at MSH. At the end of the hearing the court ordered RSA to be returned to jail. He was released. The MSH evaluation found him fit to proceed to trial.
Procedural Posture & Holding: RSA was released on bail, and charged with felony robbery. RSA indicated he would rely on a justifiable use of force defense.
Reasoning: (1) RSA’s claim that his rights were violated by his absence from the transport hearing was not raised below. The Court declines to exercise plain error review and denies RSA’s request to dismiss his conviction or remand for a new trial on this basis.
(2) RSA argues his robbery conviction must be overturned because he did not place anyone in immediate danger, nor take the tool set by force or threat of force. He contends his “flight” ended when he dropped the tool set shortly after leaving the store. However, his flight did not end until the police apprehended him. Theft does not end if a thief abandons the stolen goods. Sufficient evidence supports the conviction.
(3) A defendant has the initial burden of offering evidence of justifiable use of force. Because RSA did not testify, he did not admit to stabbing, punching and/or kicking his pursuers. The district court held that the defendant must first admit the offense before the burden shifts to the state. RSA then took the stand and testified to punching and kicking his pursuers. Relying on Daniels, 2011 MT 278, the Court affirms, noting that a defendant using a JUOF defense must first lay a foundation.