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CITY OF GREAT FALLS v. JASON BRYAN MARTIN
Case Number: 2021 MT 5N
Judge: Ingrid Gustafson
Court: IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF MONTANA
Plaintiff's Attorney: Austin Knudsen, Montana Attorney General, Katie F. Schulz, Assistant
Attorney General, Helena, Montana
Sara R. Sexe, Great Falls City Attorney, Joseph P. Cik, Assistant City
Attorney, Great Falls, Montana
Just Call 855-853-4800 for Free Help Finding a Lawyer Help You.
Helena, Montana - Criminal defense attorney represented Jason Bryan Martin with appealing from the October 7,2019 Order Denying Appeal and Remanding issued by the Eighth Judicial District Court, Cascade County.
On May 12, 2017, Martin, who was on probation due to a previous conviction for
felony assault with a weapon, ran from Great Falls Police (GFPD) officers who were
attempting to detain him. Later that day, Martin was found and arrested. He was charged
with Obstructing a Peace Officer or Other Public Servant, a misdemeanor, in violation of
§ 45-7-302(1), MCA, in the Great Falls Municipal Court. The Municipal Court appointed
the Office of State Public Defender to represent Martin, and on May 18, 2017, counsel for
Martin filed a Notice of Appearance. The matter was originally set to go to trial on
August 31, 2017. On June 2, 2017, however, Martin changed his plea to nolo contendere
by filing a Waiver of Rights and Entry of Nolo Contendere Plea. The Municipal Court
sentenced Martin to 180 days at the Cascade County Detention Center, with all but 21 days
suspended, and gave Martin credit for 21 days served on the sentence. Martin did not
¶4 On August 27, 2018, Martin filed a Petition for a Writ of Error Coram Nobis1
Municipal Court. In his petition, Martin claimed both ineffective assistance of counsel
leading to an involuntary plea of nolo contendere and actual innocence of the charged
conduct. On December 10, 2018, the City of Great Falls filed its Response to Defendant[’s]
Petition for a Writ of Error Coram Nobis, arguing the Municipal Court lacked jurisdiction
to hear the matter pursuant to § 46-21-101(2), MCA, and further noting that the writ of
coram nobis is not available under Montana law. The Municipal Court held a hearing on
the petition on December 11, 2018. At the hearing, the Municipal Court orally ruled that
coram nobis relief was not available in Montana, that it was considering the petition as one
for postconviction relief, and that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the petition because the
petition was untimely and Martin failed to exhaust his appellate remedies.
¶5 Martin appealed to the District Court on December 20, 2018. On February 11, 2019,
the Municipal Court entered a written Order denying Martin’s petition, once again noting
the petition was untimely and that Martin failed to exhaust his appellate remedies. The
Municipal Court further found that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the petition pursuant
to § 46-21-101(2), MCA, and ordered Martin’s petition “dismissed to be filed or reviewed
in District Court.” On March 1, 2019, the Municipal Court record was transferred to the
District Court. After the parties briefed the matter, the District Court held a hearing on
1 Coram nobis is a “writ of error directed to a court for review of its own judgment and predicated
on alleged errors of fact.” Coram nobis, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).
October 2, 2019.2
The District Court issued its Order Denying Appeal and Remanding on
October 7, 2019. The District Court’s order again treated Martin’s petition as one for
postconviction relief and determined it was both untimely and procedurally barred for
failing to exhaust appellate remedies.
¶6 Martin appeals. We restate the issues on appeal as follows: (1) whether the
Municipal Court erred when it treated Martin’s petition for a writ of coram nobis as a
postconviction petition and determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider the petition;
(2) whether the District Court erred when it treated Martin’s appeal from the Municipal
Court as a petition for postconviction relief and concluded Martin was not entitled to relief;
and (3) whether plain error review should be applied to consider constitutional claims
Martin raises for the first time on appeal.
¶7 Upon Martin’s appeal from Municipal Court, the District Court functioned as an
intermediate appellate court. See §§ 3-5-303 and 3-6-110, MCA. When a district court
functions as an intermediate appellate court for an appeal from a lower court of record, we
review the appeal de novo as though it were originally filed in this Court. State v. Holland,
2019 MT 128, ¶ 7, 396 Mont. 94, 443 P.3d 519 (citing State v. Akers, 2017 MT 311, ¶ 9,
389 Mont. 531, 408 P.3d 142). We examine the record independently of the district court’s
decision, reviewing the trial court’s findings of fact for clear error, its discretionary rulings
2 According to a minute entry in the record, after the parties presented their arguments, the District
Court orally denied Martin’s petition at this hearing and stated its findings of fact and conclusions
of law for the record. No transcript of this hearing was provided.
for abuse of discretion, and its legal conclusions for correctness. State v. Meyer, 2017 MT
124, ¶ 11, 387 Mont. 422, 396 P.3d 1265 (citing Stanley v. Lemire, 2006 MT 304, ¶ 26,
334 Mont. 489, 148 P.3d 643).
¶8 In Montana, proceedings seeking postconviction relief are governed by statute and
“a writ of coram nobis is no longer available as a remedy for post-conviction relief.” State
v. Barrack, 267 Mont. 154, 159, 882 P.2d 1028, 1031 (1994). Effective on October 1,
2011, the writ of coram nobis was abolished from Montana jurisprudence by M. R. Civ. P.
60(e). Martin filed his petition for a writ of coram nobis in the Municipal Court on
August 27, 2018—well after coram nobis was abolished in Montana. Martin asserted
coram nobis relief was still available to him due to the United States Supreme Court’s
decision in United States v. Morgan, 346 U.S. 502, 74 S. Ct. 247 (1954), but the Municipal
Court correctly rejected this argument.
¶9 In Morgan, the Supreme Court held federal courts had the power to issue writs of
coram nobis pursuant to federal law, unconstrained by the enactment of 28 U.S.C. § 2255,
the federal habeas corpus statute. Morgan, 346 U.S. at 511, 74 S. Ct. at 252; see also 28
U.S.C. § 1651(a) (“The Supreme Court and all courts established by Act of Congress may
issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable
to the usages and principles of law.”). The trial court in Morgan treated Morgan’s
application for coram nobis as an application for habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2255
and dismissed the matter because Morgan “was no longer in custody under its sentence” as
required for a habeas petition under the federal statutes. Morgan, 346 U.S. at 504, 74 S. Ct.
at 249. In Montana, however, a person need only be convicted of an offense to file for
postconviction relief. Compare § 46-21-101(1), MCA, with 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Indeed,
collateral attack like that formerly available under coram nobis is specifically provided for
in Montana’s postconviction statute. Section 46-21-101(1), MCA.
¶10 With coram nobis relief unavailable under Montana law, the Municipal Court
treated Martin’s petition as one for postconviction relief pursuant to § 46-21-101, MCA.
Though its oral ruling commented on the timeliness of the petition and Martin’s failure to
exhaust his appellate remedies, the Municipal Court’s written Order determined the
Municipal Court lacked jurisdiction over the petition pursuant to § 46-21-101(2), MCA.
That statute states, “[i]f the sentence was imposed by a justice’s, municipal, or city court,
the petition may not be filed unless the petitioner has exhausted all appeal remedies
provided by law. The petition must be filed with the district court in the county where
the lower court is located.” Section 46-21-101(2), MCA (emphasis added). Accordingly,
the Municipal Court both correctly construed Martin’s petition as one for postconviction
relief and determined it lacked jurisdiction to hear the petition.
¶11 We review a district court’s denial of a petition for postconviction relief to
determine if the court’s findings of fact are clearly erroneous and if its conclusions of law
are correct. Lacey v. State, 2017 MT 18, ¶ 13, 386 Mont. 204, 389 P.3d 233 (citing Kenfield
v. State, 2016 MT 197, ¶ 7, 384 Mont. 322, 377 P.3d 1207).
¶12 As noted above, the Municipal Court found it lacked jurisdiction to consider
Martin’s petition as it should have been filed in the District Court. On appeal, the District
Court similarly construed Martin’s petition as one for postconviction relief and found that
it was both untimely and procedurally barred. A petition for postconviction relief from a
municipal court sentence “may not be filed unless the petitioner has exhausted all appeal
remedies provided by law.” Section 46-21-101(2), MCA. In addition, the petition must
be filed “within 1 year of the date that the conviction becomes final.” Section 46-21-
102(1), MCA. An exception to the one-year time bar exists for claims that allege “the
existence of newly discovered evidence that, if proved and viewed in light of the evidence
as a whole would establish that the petitioner did not engage in the criminal conduct for
which the petitioner was convicted[.]” Section 46-21-102(2), MCA.
¶13 Martin was convicted and sentenced on June 2, 2017. An appeal to a district court
from a municipal court criminal case must be taken within ten days. U.M.C.R.App.
5(b)(3); see also § 46-17-311(2), MCA. Because Martin did not appeal to the District
Court, his conviction became final on June 16, 2017. See U.M.C.R.App. 20(a). Martin
did not file his Petition for a Writ of Error Coram Nobis in the Municipal Court until
August 27, 2018, well beyond the one-year time bar provided by § 46-21-102(1), MCA.
¶14 Martin’s petition also fails to allege the existence of newly discovered evidence
which would establish he did not commit the offense of obstructing a peace officer. In this
case, Martin’s probation officer orally directed GFPD officers to arrest Martin for
probation violations pursuant to her deputization authority provided by § 46-23-1012(2),
MCA. GFPD officers then sought to arrest Martin, who fled. Though Martin weaves a
tale of a government conspiracy against him and argues he was therefore free to run from
the police, such an argument is not supported by the evidence and is not well-taken.
Martin’s probation officer deputized GFPD officers to arrest Martin, and Martin committed
the offense of obstructing a peace officer by fleeing from that arrest. As Martin’s petition
was not filed within one year of the date his conviction became final and did not allege the
existence of newly discovered evidence which would show he did not commit the offense
of obstructing a peace officer, the District Court correctly denied Martin’s petition as
¶15 The District Court, in addition to finding the petition untimely, also found Martin’s
petition was procedurally barred because he failed to exhaust his appeal remedies as
required by § 46-21-101(2), MCA. Martin did not appeal his conviction after his plea of
nolo contendere as his right to trial de novo in the District Court was waived pursuant to
§ 46-17-203(2)(a), MCA. Martin, though he would later claim in his petition that his plea
was not entered voluntarily, did not move to withdraw his guilty plea. See § 46-17-
203(2)(b), MCA; § 46-16-105(2), MCA. The District Court correctly found that Martin
failed to exhaust his appeal remedies and therefore his petition, in addition to being
time-barred, was also procedurally barred by § 46-21-101(2), MCA.
¶16 Finally, Martin urges us to employ plain error review on constitutional claims he
raises for the first time on appeal. Specifically, Martin asserts § 46-21-101(2), MCA, is
unconstitutional as applied to him and that his due process rights were violated. We
generally do not address issues raised for the first time on appeal. State v. George, 2020
MT 56, ¶ 4, 399 Mont. 173, 459 P.3d 854 (citing State v. Hatfield, 2018 MT 229, ¶ 15, 392
Mont. 509, 426 P.3d 569). “We may use the plain error doctrine in situations implicating
a defendant’s fundamental constitutional rights and where failing to review the alleged
error may result in a manifest miscarriage of justice, leave unsettled the question of the
fundamental fairness of the proceedings, or compromise the integrity of the judicial
process.” Hatfield, ¶ 15 (citing State v. Lawrence, 2016 MT 346, ¶ 9, 386 Mont. 86, 385
P.3d 968). We employ the plain error doctrine sparingly, on a case-by-case basis, and
consider the totality of the circumstances of each case. Akers, ¶ 13 (citation omitted).
¶17 As the party requesting plain error review, Martin “bears the burden of firmly
convincing this Court that the claimed error implicates a fundamental right and that such
review is necessary to prevent a manifest miscarriage of justice or that failure to review the
claim may leave unsettled the question of fundamental fairness of the proceedings or may
compromise the integrity of the judicial process.” George, ¶ 5 (citing Akers, ¶ 13).
¶18 Here, plain error review of Martin’s newly-raised issues is not warranted as he had
full opportunity to raise these claims below. Both the Municipal Court and the District
Court heard Martin’s case even though it was both wrongfully filed in the Municipal Court
initially and not in the proper format of a petition for postconviction relief. Indeed, the
Municipal Court, upon realizing Martin had filed in the wrong court dismissed the case so
that Martin could file a petition for postconviction relief in the District Court. Martin
declined to do so and instead appealed the denial of his coram nobis petition. The District
Court then heard Martin’s appeal and ultimately properly treated it as a petition for
postconviction relief as well. Plain error review is not necessary to prevent a miscarriage
of justice, address a question of fundamental fairness, or preserve the integrity of the
judicial process in this matter and we therefore decline to use our discretionary power to
exercise plain error review.
¶19 We have determined to decide this case pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c) of our
Internal Operating Rules, which provides for memorandum opinions. In the opinion of the
Court, the case presents a question controlled by settled law or by the clear application of
applicable standards of review.