Does The Voluntary Intoxication Statute Violate The Montana Constitution?

The Montana Supreme Court has held in numerous cases that the Montana Constitution provides greater protection than the United States Constitution. However, there is an anomaly of cases that rule the due process clause of the Montana Constitution provides only the same level of protection, particularly where someone accused of a crime wishes to assert the defense of voluntary intoxication.

Years ago, the Montana legislature passed Section 45-2-203, MCA, which prevents the defendant from using voluntary intoxication as a defense to a crime. In short, the statute tries to prevent the defendant from arguing to a jury that he was so intoxicated that he could not have formed the criminal intent (i.e. knowingly) of the crime alleged. In 1995, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in the Egelhoff case that this statute violated a defendant’s right to due process and thus could not be used to prevent the defendant from arguing that the prosecutor could not prove the “knowingly” element to a crime. The court ruled that the defendant’s due process rights allow him to argue any fact to rebut the prosecutor’s burden to prove each and every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This, of course, necessarily means that the prosecutor must prove the criminal intent element, and voluntary intoxication may be used to rebut that element of the crime.

In that case, the Montana Supreme Court used the federal constitution to reach its conclusion, not the Montana Constitution. Keep in mind, the federal constitution does not provide as much protection to people as the Montana Constitution. Had the Montana Supreme Court used the Montana Constitution, we may not be in the predicament we are in given what followed that case.

The State of Montana appealed that decision to the United States Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Section 45-2-203, MCA did not offend due process under the federal constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court never addressed the issue using the Montana Constitution.  After that U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Montana Supreme Court has consistently ruled that Section 45-2-203, MCA does not violate one’s due process rights under the Montana Constitution, even though the U.S. Supreme Court never addressed the Montana Constitution or the rights provided therein.

This anomaly is now before the Flathead County District Court in City of Kalispell v. Anastasiya Golovko, DC-15-2014-215-MP, an appeal in which I represent the appellant/defendant. Specifically, the appeal seeks to revive the due process right of a defendant to challenge the prosecutor’s burden of proof to show criminal intent (i.e. “knowingly”). As argued in the appeal, the Montana Supreme Court’s decisions contradict precedent where the Court has upheld greater protections provided by the Montana Constitution. In other words, the law cannot be both ways, stating in one group of decisions that the Montana Constitution provides greater protection, but in another group of decisions that it does not.

At trial before the Kalispell Municipal Court, the City of Kalispell argued that the defendant had obstructed a peace officer in violation of Section 45-7-302, MCA. The evidence revealed that the defendant was so intoxicated that she “didn’t have the ability to follow simple instructions like, go home,” as one of the officers stated on a surveillance video.  Despite this, the Court denied a motion in limine asking for an order allowing the defendant to raise a factual defense that the City could not prove that she “knowingly” obstructed an officer, given her intoxication.

If the District Court affirms, the defendant will have a right to appeal to the Montana Supreme Court, where perhaps this anomaly can be fixed once and for all.

If you have a question or need assistance regarding criminal law, you should consult with Tim Baldwin.

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