Archive | Ineffective assistance of counsel

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State v. Ailer

State v. Ailer, 2018 MT 18 (Feb. 6, 2018) (McGrath, C.J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred in denying Ailer’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim; (2) whether evidence of Ailer’s wages being garnished is a “bad act” and inadmissible character evidence; and (3) whether substantial evidence supported the district court’s restitution order.

Short Answer: (1) No; (2) no; and (3) yes.


Facts: A few weeks after being released to full-duty employment after a car accident, Matthew Ailer filed a work comp claim, reporting that a heavy floor burnisher fell on him as he was lifting it into his work truck. A coworker, Russell, and Ailer’s fiancée were with Ailer when the accident occurred, and took him to the hospital.…

State v. Schowengerdt

State v. Schowengerdt, 2018 MT 7 (Jan. 16, 2018) (Shea, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred in ruling Schowengerdt was not entitled to substitution of counsel, and (2) whether Schowengerdt was denied effective assistance of counsel.

Short Answer: (1) No, and (2) no.


Facts: Schowengerdt killed his wife by repeatedly stabbing her in their home in December 2012. He drove to the police station the next day and confessed in a recorded statement. Schowengerdt’s attorney filed notice in January 2013 that he might assert a defense of justificable use of force. In April 2013, Schowengerdt decided to plead guilty to deliberate homicide. The district court proceeded through a detailed colloquy during which Schowengerdt indicated the plea was knowing and voluntary, he was satisfied with his attorney’s services, and that he could not “handle” a trial.…

City of Libby v. Hubbard

City of Libby v. Hubbard, 2018 MT 2 (Jan. 2, 2018) (Rice, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether Hubbard’s conviction should be reversed because of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: Hubbard and her cousin went to a Libby casino to gamble. Hubbard presented a fake ID to obtain a gambling coupon. An employee recognized her and called police. Upon investigation, the officers confirmed that Hubbard had no outstanding warrants, but that her Oregon driver’s license was suspended. She was not cited for using the fake identification.

Shortly after, the officers were on patrol when they saw Hubbard driving. Knowing her license was suspended, they initiated a traffic stop, and arrested her.…

State v. Spottedbear

State v. Spottedbear, 2016 MT 243 (Oct. 4, 2016) (Baker, J.) (5-0, aff’d & rev’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the improper influence statute is unconstitutionally overbroad; (2) whether the state presented sufficient evidence of improper influence; (3) whether the state presented sufficient evidence to convict Spottedbear of criminal trespass; (4) whether the district court properly admitted evidence of Spottedbear’s prior incident with Officer Walker; and (5) whether trial counsel was ineffective.

Short Answer: (1) No; (2) yes; (3) no; (4) yes; and (5) no.

Affirmed and reversed

Facts: In late February 2014, Officer Walker responded to a disturbance between Spottedbear and another customer at Wal-Mart. After speaking to a staff person at the store, Walker told Spottedbear to leave the store.…

State v. Cheetham

State v. Cheetham, 2016 MT 151 (June 16, 2014) (Baker, J.; McKinnon, J., concurring) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court abused its discretion by failing to conduct an adequate inquiry into Cheetham’s request for substitute counsel; and (2) whether Cheetham was denied effective assistance of counsel.

Short Answer: (1) No, and (2) the record is insufficient to make this determination on direct appeal, and is better suited for a postconviction proceeding.


Facts: In January 2014, Cheetham was charged with sexual intercourse without consent, sexual assault, and sexual abuse of children, all of which were alleged to have occurred in 2004 when Cheetham and the victim, NS, were living with the victim’s grandmother. At the time of the offenses, Cheetham was 32 and NS was 5.…

State v. Weber

State v. Weber, 2016 MT 138 (June 7, 2016) (Wheat, J.) (5-0, rev’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court abused its discretion by refusing to admit the inventory list offered by defense counsel; (2) whether the district court abused its discretion by limiting defense counsel’s examination of defense investigator Peck; and (3) whether defense counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to admit the evidence.

Short Answer: (1) No; (2) no; and (3) yes.

Reversed and remanded for a new trial

Facts: Weber was a janitor at Sydney High School. He was working the night a tool used to cut metal and steel went missing from the high school shop classroom. The principal later identified Weber on surveillance video on the shop the night the plasma cutter disappeared.…

In the Matter of SH

In the Matter of SH, 2016 MT 137 (June 7, 2016) (McKinnon, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court relied on sufficient evidence to determine SH required commitment, and (2) whether SH received ineffective assistance of counsel.

Short Answer: (1) Yes, and (2) no.


Facts: SH sought help from the Billings Clinic ER in November 2014, complaining there were snakes in her stomach, black bugs in the toilet, and the voices of God and Satan were arguing in her head. A psychiatrist at the clinic examined her and, upon his recommendation, the state petitioned to involuntarily commit SH on November 12, 2014. The district court ordered SH detained at the clinic pending resolution of the petition, appointed counsel to represent SH, and appointed the clinic psychiatrist as the professional person to evaluate SH.…

State v. Crawford

State v. Crawford, 2016 MT 96 (April 26, 2016) (McKinnon, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred in denying Crawford’s motion to suppress; (2) whether Crawford received ineffective assistance of counsel; (3) whether the district court improperly denied Crawford’s third discovery request; (4) whether the district court erred by denying Crawford’s post-trial motion to dismiss; and (5) whether the district court adequately addressed Crawford’s complaints about his assigned counsel.

Short Answer: (1) No; (2) no; (3) no; (4) no; and (5) yes.


Facts: Crawford was released on parole in December 2010 after incarceration at Montana State Prison for multiple drug-related felony convictions. As a condition of his parole, he was required to obtain written permission from his parole officer before traveling outside of Silver Bow, Beaverhead, Jefferson or Deer Lodge counties.…

In the Matter of KB

In the Matter of KB, 2016 MT 73 (March 29, 2016) (McKinnon, J.) (7-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over KB’s abuse and neglect proceeding, and (2) whether Father received ineffective assistance of counsel.

Short Answer: (1) No, and (2) no.


Facts: KB was removed from her mother’s care in November 2012, at the age of 5, due to concerns about Mother’s inability to protect KB from domestic violence. KB was placed in kinship foster care with her aunt and uncle, where she has remained. Her younger sister, TH, also lives with aunt and uncle.

KB was adjudicated a youth in need of care in 2013, and the Department drafted a treatment plan for Father.…

Heavygun v. State

Heavygun v. State, 2016 MT 66 (March 22, 2016) (McKinnon, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether Heavygun received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: Heavygun was charged with and convicted of deliberate homicide, felony DUI, violation of an order of protection, felony criminal endangerment, driving with a suspended or revoked license, and felony tampering with physical evidence. He was sentenced to life in prison plus other concurrent sentences. His conviction was affirmed by this Court in 2011.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Heavygun petitioned for postconviction relief, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court denied the petition, and Heavygun appeals. The Supreme Court affirms. 

Reasoning: Heavygun argues ineffective assistance on the grounds that: 1) he was represented by six public defenders, three of whom were his attorney of record; 2) his attorney failed to investigate and present evidence of his victim’s history of violence; and 3) his attorney failed to adequately prepare him to testify.…