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News & Press: State Bar News

Supreme Court upholds harsher sentence than negotiated in plea deal

Tuesday, April 18, 2017  
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The Montana Supreme Court today ruled that a Stillwater County judge’s harsher sentence than what was negotiated in a plea deal did not constitute breach of the agreement.

In the 2015 case, Jennifer Ann Ellison had reached a deal with prosecutors for a deferred sentence in exchange for a guilty plea to criminal endangerment, DUI, failure to carry proof of insurance and driving without a valid license. Instead, the Honorable Blair Jones imposed a five-year sentence with the Department of Corrections with three years suspended.

On appeal, Ellison argued that the prosecution merely paid lip service to the agreement, because at sentencing it offered no support for the deferred sentence recommendation but commented on its concerns about her housing situation and her noncompliance with the terms of her pretrial release.

In its 7-0 decision, however, the court disagreed, saying the prosecutor’s comments were merely addressing the challenges Ellison faced.

“The District Court was already acutely aware of  Ellison’s poor performance and noncompliance during the proceedings, and concluded that Ellison required intensive treatment and structure only available through DOC for her chemical dependency issues,” Justice James Jeremiah Shea wrote for the majority.

Read the full opinion here.