Betterman v. Montana

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: December 4, 2015
  • Case #: 13-0572
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court Below: 342 P.3d 971 (Mont. 2015)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether sentencing is part of the trial for the purpose of the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.

Petitioner was convicted on domestic assault charges and sentenced to five years in prison. Petitioner also pleaded guilty to bail jumping in district court in the state of Montana for failure to appear in court. While still in lock up, Petitioner waited nearly fourteen months for sentencing on the bail jumping charges. Petitioner moved to have the bail jumping charges dismissed for reasons of lack of due process following what he believed to be an inexcusable amount of time between conviction and sentencing. Petitioner argued such a delay violated his right to a speedy trial. The district court refused the motion. The Supreme Court for the State of Montana affirmed the district court’s decision. Reviewing the question of law de novo, the court explains the historical separation between the trial by the jury and the sentencing by the judge. The court explained that once the defendant is convicted, the injustices that the Sixth Amendment are meant to protect against are no longer relevant, namely, the oppressive incarceration of a person presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Petitioner’s writ of certiorari argues that the Montana court’s decision deepens the divide between trial and sentencing beyond what many federal circuit courts have held, additionally, that the Montana court’s decision is contrary to the majority opinion, and finally, that the question is intractable without a decision by the Supreme Court. The petitioner insists this case is an ideal vehicle for deciding this issue.

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