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DA 18-0187 - STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. WESLEY SMITH, Defendant and Appellant.
Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, February 17, 2021, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana.
A jury found Smith guilty of felony sexual abuse of a child after a 9-year-old testified that he forced her to dance for him, partially clothed, on a “stripper pole.” The girl testified at his trial, admitting that she told three people what had happened and that the details she offered differed with each account. Her account at trial was consistent with what she had previously told a forensic investigator. That investigator testified about her conversations with the child over Smith’s hearsay objections. Over Smith’s objection that it would only bolster witness testimony, the State played for the jury a video recording of an interview the forensic investigator conducted with the child.
On appeal, Smith argues that the District Court erred in allowing the State to play the video of the forensic interview. Smith further argues that certain comments the prosecutor made during her closing argument constitute prosecutorial misconduct.
As part of Smith’s sentence, the District Court ordered that Smith be subject to Department of Corrections’ supervision for the remainder of his life, including continuous electronic monitoring. Smith argues that it is unconstitutional to require him to be supervised after he completes his sentence because the Montana Constitution and pertinent statutes provide that a person’s full civil rights are restored once their sentence has expired and the requirement of continuous electronic monitoring would infringe upon his individual liberty. The Court has asked the parties to focus their oral arguments on this issue.
DA 19-0731 - STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. TRAVIS STAKER, Defendant and Appellant.
Oral Argument is set for Friday, March 26, 2021, at 9:30 a.m., with an introduction to the oral argument beginning at 9:00 a.m. Oral argument will be conducted entirely by visual and audio communication devices on Zoom, live-streamed through the Court’s website at http://stream.vision.net/MT-JUD/
Staker responded to an internet ad that offered an “experience” with “Lily” by sending a text message to the phone number that appeared in the ad. Staker and “Lily” then engaged in a text conversation that resulted in Staker arranging to meet at a Bozeman hotel where Staker would pay “Lily” in exchange for sexual intercourse. When Staker arrived at the hotel, he was arrested and charged with prostitution. Staker learned that the ad he responded to was part of an undercover operation and that he had been exchanging text messages with a Homeland Security Special Agent. The arresting officers seized Staker’s cell phone but did not obtain a search warrant.
Staker moved to suppress the text message exchange, arguing that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the text conversation. While the Montana Supreme Court has never addressed the issue of whether a warrant is required for an undercover law enforcement officer to engage in a text message conversation with a potential suspect, Staker argued that a text message exchange should be treated the same as oral communication, were a warrant is required for law enforcement to listen to and record a conversation. In denying Staker’s motion, however, the District Court noted that the cases Staker relied upon involved instances in which a defendant and another party engaged in an oral conversation that was recorded by law enforcement, whereas here, Staker engaged in a written conversation directly with one of the arresting officers. The court further reasoned that Staker chose to engage in text messaging rather than a phone call, his messages were not surreptitiously recorded, and he knew or should have known the conversation was memorialized in written form and that “Lily” could voluntarily share his messages with law enforcement.
On appeal, Staker argues that the Montana Supreme Court should reverse the District Court’s ruling, hold that the search and seizure of his text messages was unlawful, and suppress all evidence in this case.