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Woirhaye v. Montana Fourth Judicial District Court

12/23/1998

ORIGINAL PROCEEDING


Heard and Submitted: November 19, 1998


. In this case, Richard Quinton Woirhaye seeks a writ of supervisory control regarding a decision of the Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County. That court upheld the constitutionality of § 46-17-201(3), MCA, against Woirhaye's claim that the statute violated his right to trial by jury. In a June 2, 1998 order, we accepted supervisory control. We now hold that § 46-17-201(3), MCA, violates the right to trial by jury.


. The issue is whether § 46-17-201(3), MCA, infringes upon the rights guaranteed under Article II, Sections 24 and 26 of the Montana Constitution by allowing a misdemeanor criminal defendant to exercise his right to a jury trial only once, in either Justice court or in district court on trial de novo.


. In March 1997, Richard Quinton Woirhaye was charged with a misdemeanor offense of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) in Missoula County, Montana. Inasmuch as the offense was a misdemeanor, the complaint was brought before the Missoula County Justice of the Peace, pursuant to § 3-10-303, MCA.


. Woirhaye asserted his right to a jury trial at that proceeding, and the Justice court jury convicted him of the DUI charge. Woirhaye then appealed to the District Court for a trial de novo pursuant to Article VII, Section 4(2), of the Montana Constitution and § 46-17-311, MCA.


. Section 46-17-201(3), MCA, provides:


"A defendant in a misdemeanor case filed in Justice's or city court is limited to one jury trial, either in Justice's or city court or on appeal to the district court. The defendant shall either elect a jury trial in Justice's or city court or reserve jury trial for the district court in the event of conviction and subsequent appeal to the district court. The defendant's election or reservation must be noted by the court on the face of the charging document. "Wishing to be tried by jury in the District Court, Woirhaye moved that court to declare that § 46-17-201(3), MCA, violated his right to jury trial and was therefore unconstitutional. The court entered an order and supporting memorandum of law denying Woirhaye's motion. Woirhaye then applied to this Court for a writ of supervisory control, and this Court accepted jurisdiction."


Discussion


. Does § 46-17-201(3), MCA, infringe upon the rights guaranteed under Article II, Sections 24 and 26 of the Montana Constitution, by allowing a misdemeanor criminal defendant to exercise his right to a jury trial only once, in either Justice court or in district court on trial de novo?


. Once this Court has accepted supervisory control, as we have in this case, our standard of review of constitutional questions is plenary. If, upon presentation of a matter to the Court by means of a writ, it is apparent from the record that a relator will be deprived of a fundamental right, both Justice and judicial economy require the Court to then resolve the issue in favor of the relator. State ex rel. Coburn v. Bennett (1982), 202 Mont. 20, 34, 655 P.2d 502, 509.


. Section 46-17-201(3), MCA, contains the substantive provisions of Chapter 129, L. 1997. The sponsor of this legislation described it as a bill which "streamlines the process [of criminal misdemeanor trials] and saves counties money and citizens time on juries." Testimony of sponsor at hearing before Montana Senate Judiciary Committee, March 7, 1997. The other provisions of the Act, codified at §§ 46-7-102(1)(g) and 46-17-311(1), MCA, require the Justice of the peace to inform misdemeanor criminal defendants of their "right to elect one jury trial," and reiterate that jury trial on a

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