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Montana Supreme Court: Detainee Entitled to Pre-Sentence Credit for Time Served Regardless if Also Held in Connection With Another Matter in Another County

by Douglas Ankney

The Supreme Court of Montana held that Mark Alan Mendoza was entitled to credit for each day he spent in pre-sentence confinement after an arrest warrant for DUI was served on him, regardless of the fact that he was being held in another county on another matter.
Mendoza was charged by citation in Lake County, Montana, for felony Driving Under the Influence (“DUI”) on September 3, 2015. He failed to appear at his initial appearance, so a warrant was issued for his arrest on September 9, 2015. The warrant specified a bond of $25,000. On December 3, 2017, Mendoza was arrested in Gallatin County on a DUI charge and held in the Gallatin County Detention Center (“GCDC”). While incarcerated at the GCDC, the Lake County warrant was served on him on December 5, 2017, with bond set at $25,000, which he never posted and remained incarcerated. He was also charged with a DUI from Missoula County.

Pursuant to a plea agreement that specifically provided Mendoza “shall receive credit for any time served on these charges,” he entered a guilty plea to the Lake County DUI on March 21, 2019, and he was sentenced on July 18, 2019.

Mendoza argued that because he was held on a “bailable offense” pursuant to §46-18-403(1), MCA, he was entitled to credit for each day he had been held at MCDC from the date of the service of the warrant (December 5, 2017) until the date of his sentencing (July 18, 2019)—“approximately 579 days.” The State argued that Mendoza wasn’t entitled to credit for the entire period because he was being held at MCDC on charges from Gallatin County and Missoula County.

The district court provided Mendoza with only 192 days credit, based upon the fact that Mendoza had been held for that term on the Lake County warrant after sentence had been imposed on the Gallatin and Missoula County charges. Apparently unsure of the proper method of calculation, the judge conceded, “You know what? We’re going to let the supreme court sort this out.” Mendoza appealed the district court’s ruling.

The Supreme Court framed the determinative legal issue as follows: “Whether Mendoza’s sentence on his DUI is illegal due to the District Court’s failure to credit him for each day of incarceration from the date he was served with the arrest warrant through the date of the imposition of sentence.” The Court answered the question in the affirmative.

The Court observed “despite §§ 46-18-403(1) and 46-9-102(1), MCA, determining whether a defendant is ‘incarcerated on a bailable offense’ has proven confusing and difficult for sentencing courts.” Section 46-18-403(1), MCA (2017), provides: “A person incarcerated on a bailable offense against whom a judgment of imprisonment is rendered must be allowed credit for each day of incarceration prior to or after conviction, except that the time allowed as credit may not exceed the term of the prison sentence rendered.”

And § 46-18-403(1), MCA (2017) provides: “(1) All persons shall be bailable before conviction, except when death is a possible punishment for the offense charged and the proof [of the potentially death invoking offense] is evident or the presumption great that the person is guilty of the offense charged.”

In the instant case, Mendoza was not facing a possible death sentence, so his Lake County DUI offense was bailable. The warrant charging him with that offense even specified a bail of $25,000.

Furthermore, the Court explained that the Legislature has eliminated any confusion on this issue with enactment of § 46-18-201(9), MCA (2017), by relieving sentencing courts from the task of determining whether the defendant is incarcerated on a “bailable offense.”

Applying § 46-18-201(9) to the present case, the Court ruled that Mendoza is entitled to credit “for each day he was incarcerated from December 5, 2017 to sentencing on July 18, 2019, regardless of whether he was also being held in connection with another matter in a different county.”

Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded to the district court to amend the judgment to provide Mendoza with proper credit for each day he was incarcerated. See: State v. Mendoza, 492 P.3d 509 (Mont. 2021).

Writer’s note: Another case, Killam v. Salmonsen, 492 P.3d 512 (2021), was issued simultaneously with Mendoz. The Mendoz Court instructed that the “holding in Killam is controlling and discusses application of § 46-18-201(9), MCA, in determining what credit must be given for presentence incarceration.” 

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