Montana v. Hall

481 U. S. 400

April 27, 1987

Hall sexually assaulted his 12 year old stepdaughter. After being convicted of incest, Hall correctly pointed out that the incest law did not extend to situations involving stepparents and stepchildren. The Montana Supreme Court thus overturned his conviction, and said that he could not be tried again for the sexual assault because of the double jeopardy clause.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the double jeopardy clause did not pose an obstacle to retrial. In a per curiam opinion, the Court explained that retrial had long been allowed when a conviction was overturned due to legal technicalities. Brennan dissented from the Court’s summary disposition without opinion. Marshall filed a whiny dissent that lamented the lost opportunity of the parties to file more extensive briefs on the merits. Stevens wrote a dissent too, which stated that there appeared to be an independent state law ground for the Montana court’s decision.

I’d like to take this opportunity to say that Montana has one of the most abominable and activist supreme courts of any state (California and New Jersey are some of the other worst ones). The judges there have a long record of lawlessness. A law review article published the same year as Hall documented how the court “relied upon questionable interpretations of the state constitution and disregarded the legitimate processes and decisions of the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention, the Montana Legislature, and the democratic initiative.” Little has changed since.

It’s appalling that the justices of the Montana Supreme Court, not to mention Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens, are more concerned about procedural trivialities than controlling child molesters. I’m glad the US Supreme Court was able to get this one right. Still, Hall might have even been able to win here if he had simply gone all the way and killed his stepdaughter too. That’s how ‘justice’ works here in America.


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