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 March 2012, a Flathead tribal police officer on patrol in Lake County stopped a vehicle with only one working headlight. The officer recognized one of the four passengers, and arrested him on an outstanding warrant. He issued a warning to Crawford about the headlight. While being transported, that man told the officer that two of the men in the vehicle were armed robbery suspects and one produced methamphetamine.

At the police station, the officer learned that Crawford was on parole in Solver Bow county, and called the probation office to ask whether Crawford was in violation of his parole. Crawford’s parole officer called back and advised that Crawford was in violation for leaving without written permission, and asked the officer to arrest Crawford.

Four days later, the tribal officer and a Lake County sheriff’s deputy saw Crawford’s vehicle pull into a gas station. They initiated a traffic stop and placed Crawford under arrest. After conducting a search incident to arrest, the officers discovered two vials in Crawford pants pockets, which were later determined to contain meth.

Crawford was charged with criminal possession of dangerous drugs with intent to distribute, and arraigned on that charge. Subsequently the state amended the information to add a charge of felony criminal forfeiture. Four months later, the state filed a second amended information, dismissing the criminal forfeiture charge and reducing the original charge to criminal possession, a lesser-included offense. Crawford was not arraigned on the second amended information.

In July 2013, Crawford filed a third request for discovery, seeking emails between law enforcement and parole officers and information about the informant. Crawford contended the arrest video provided by the state was not the original video, and asked for the original. The district court denied Crawford’s request.

In February 2013 Crawford moved to suppress the evidence of methamphetamine, alleging the search was unlawful. The district court held a hearing, after which the state file proposed findings and conclusions, but Crawford’s counsel did not. The district court denied Crawford’s motion.

During trial, Crawford raised issues about his counsel. The district court told him he would have to make a written motion, and the court would hold a hearing, but “we are not going to do that in mid trial.” ¶ 11.

Procedural Posture & Holding: A jury found Crawford guilty of criminal possession in December 2013. The district court sentenced him as a persistent felony offender, committing him to the MSP for 20 years with 10 years suspended. Crawford filed a post-trial motion to dismiss, arguing the state’s failure to arraign him on the second amended information was reversible error. The district court denied the motion. Crawford appeals and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) Crawford contends that the search incident to his arrest was nonetheless unlawful under the so-called “stalking horse” theory, under which an otherwise lawful parole search may be invalidated if the search was not for a parole purpose, but was a subterfuge for a criminal investigation. Crawford asks the Court to inquire into the officers’ subjective motivations, but the Court declines to do so, noting it has never invalidated a search on the stalking horse theory, and stating that inquiry into law enforcement’s subjective motivations is inappropriate in assessing the validity of an arrest. Additionally, federal and state courts have repudiated the staking horse theory in the wake of United States v. Knights, 534 U.S. 112 (2001). Finally, even if the Court were to “breathe new life into the stalking horse theory,” it would not do so under the facts of this case. Crawford’s arrest was lawful, and the search incident to that arrest was also lawful.

(2) Crawford argues his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to file proposed findings and conclusions, causing him substantial prejudice. The Court disagrees. Given its resolution of the first issue, Crawford was not prejudiced. Even if his counsel had filed findings and conclusions, the underlying legal theory was fatally flawed.

(3) Crawford has not shown that the state suppressed exculpatory or otherwise relevant evidence. Crawford did not provide expert testimony demonstrating the video was not the original, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the request.

(4) Because the state did not substantively amend the information by dismissing the criminal forfeiture charge and reducing he possession charge, it was not necessary to arraign Crawford on the second amended information The district court correctly denied Crawford post-trial motion to dismiss.

(5) Crawford never requested the district court to appoint him new counsel. Absent such a request, the district court was not obligated to inquire further.