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Woman Who Asked The Montana Supreme Court To Quash Her Case Pleads Guilty

After a failed attempt to convince the Montana Supreme Court to throw out her case, Erica Dion has pleaded guilty. The case is now one step away from being closed and no longer in danger of another jury trial attempt.

Dion, who had difficulties showing up to trial, admitted to the offense of felony assault with a weapon Wednesday in District Court in Havre. She is set to be sentenced in April.

The May 13 incident that produced the crime involved a threat and a fake firearm.  

Dion drove up and pointed what appeared to be a black .45-caliber pistol at someone, according to court charging documents. The incident was related to something that happened the previous day, when the person refused to let Dion onto property that was not hers. The day Dion pointed the weapon, she also told the victim she “better watch” her back. Then she drove off. The person called the police. After Dion’s arrest, police determined the pistol was actually a BB gun.

The Hill County attorney’s office filed charges against Dion. On Sept. 30 she failed to show up to the jury confirmation part of her trial. She asked, through her attorney Paul Gallardo of Great Falls, that the process continue without her, one of multiple similar requests she’d make over the following months.

District Judge Kaydee Snipes Ruiz denied the request.

With her trial set to begin Oct. 30, Dion was arrested the night before on an unrelated matter. She asked to have the trial delayed because she wasn’t “mentally prepared.” The judge denied the request. Thanks to Hill County Detention Center staff who transported her, Dion was in court on Oct. 30. That day, a jury was selected and attorneys made their opening statements.

But the next day, Oct. 31, Dion again failed to show up to court and again asked for the trial to continue without her. By this point, the judge was clearly frustrated:

“Absolutely not. That is absolutely ridiculous,” the judge said in open court. “She is ordered to be here. She needs to be at trial. … If she is not here by the time we have the jury brought up, I will call a mistrial and order a warrant for her arrest. … This is not a tea party. This is not optional. She needs to be here. We will wait until the jury gets here and wait until she arrives.” 

At 8:56 a.m., Snipes Ruiz declared a mistrial and issued an arrested warrant for Dion, who showed up to the courthouse at 9:05 a.m. and was arrested.

Seven days later, Dion’s attorney filed a request of the Montana Supreme Court to overturn Snipes Ruiz’s retrial decision and request she throw out the case on the basis of double jeopardy, which says a person can’t be prosecuted twice for the same crime. Since a jury had been selected and the attorney had already given opening statements, a retrial would trigger double jeopardy, she contended.

Snipes Ruiz responded. Among the many reasons she cited for why Dion’s request was unfounded, double jeopardy did not apply in this case because Dion waited seven days before objecting to the retrial. Dion’s attorney should have objected after she declared a mistrial, added Snipes Ruiz.

On Feb. 4, the Supreme Court responded. The state’s high court denied Dion’s request, siding with the judge.

The justices wrote that Dion waived her objection to the judge’s mistrial decision when she waited seven days to object. Furthermore, double jeopardy did not apply because neither the state nor the defense had presented any evidence.

Now, if the plea agreement is adhered to, Dion will serve probation for the offense.

Hill County Attorney Karen Alley recommends three years’ probation in exchange for Dion’s guilty plea. Dion is scheduled to be sentenced April 20, although the hearing could be delayed if she remains in treatment. Court minutes did not specify what treatment Dion is or may go through.

Although sentencings tend to strongly corollate with the plea deal recommendations, judges don’t have to abide by them.

Read more about this case

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Write to Paul Dragu at (406) 262-7778
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