IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF MONTANA
2005 MT 99
STATE OF MONTANA,
Plaintiff and Respondent,
CRAIG WILLIAM FRAZIER,
Defendant and Appellant.
District Court of the Eighth Judicial District,
In and for the County of Cascade, Cause No. BDC 04-188
The Honorable Julie Macek, Judge presiding.
COUNSEL OF RECORD:
Craig W. Frazier, pro se, Great Falls, Montana
Honorable Mike McGrath, Montana Attorney General, John Paulson,
Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana; Brant S. Light, Cascade
County Attorney, Marty Judnich, Deputy County Attorney, Great Falls,
Submitted on Briefs: March 1, 2005
Decided: April 19, 2005
Justice Patricia O. Cotter delivered the Opinion of the Court.
Craig William Frazier (Frazier) appeals the decision of the Eighth Judicial District
Court, Cascade County, dismissing his appeal from Justice Court. We affirm.
The issue presented on appeal is whether the District Court erred in dismissing
Frazier’s appeal of his speeding conviction from Justice Court.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The grant or denial of a motion to dismiss in a criminal case is a question of law
which we review de novo. State v. White Bear, 2005 MT 7, ¶ 5, 325 Mont. 337, ¶ 5, 106
P.3d 516, ¶ 5.
On February 9, 2004, Frazier was charged with speeding. A jury trial was held on
April 14, 2004, in Justice Court, with Frazier representing himself. The jury convicted him
and he was sentenced to pay a fine and the costs of the jury, and to complete a traffic school
class. Frazier filed a timely appeal to the District Court, and the Justice Court stayed his
sentence pending the appeal. The Justice Court record was transferred to the District Court
and filed on May 3, 2004. Notice of the transfer was sent to Frazier. On May 24, 2004, the
State filed a motion for summary dismissal of the appeal on the grounds that Frazier had
failed to file a brief within fifteen days after the record was filed, as required by Rule 14(a)
of the Uniform Municipal Court Rules of Appeal (UMCRA). On May 25, 2004, the District
Court granted summary dismissal. Frazier filed a timely notice of appeal with this Court.
The procedural posture of this case bears explaining. The Cascade County Justice
Court, in which Frazier was convicted, is a “court of record” established under § 3-10101(5), MCA. Under § 3-10-115, MCA, an appeal from a justice court established as a court
of record is appropriately before the district court. Section 3-10-115(4), MCA, states:
“Unless the supreme court establishes rules for appeal from a justice’s court established as
a court of record to the district court, the Montana Uniform Municipal Court Rules of Appeal
to District Court, codified in Title 25, chapter 30, apply to appeals to district court from the
justice’s court established as a court of record.” Because no such rules applicable to justice
courts of record have been promulgated by this Court, the UMCRA applied to this
proceeding in District Court.
After Frazier was convicted in Justice Court, he appropriately appealed his conviction
to the Eighth Judicial District Court, Cascade County. Thereafter, the Justice Court
transferred the “record” of Frazier’s trial, which consisted, in part, of an audio CD of the
trial, to the District Court. When Frazier failed to comply with Rule 14(c), UMCRA, the
State moved for summary dismissal of Frazier’s appeal. The District Court granted the
Rule 14(c), UMCRA, provides, “if an appellant fails to file a brief within the time
provided by this rule, . . . the appeal shall be deemed without merit and subject the appeal
to summary dismissal by the district court.” Frazier requests that we liberally construe the
proceedings because he is representing himself.
While we are willing to make
accommodations for parties choosing to represent themselves in proceedings before us and
in proceedings below, we must, nonetheless, balance that willingness against our policy of
deferring to a district court’s application of rules of procedure.
While § 3-10-115, MCA, has application to the matter before us, we note the
application as well of §§ 25-33-101 through 25-33-306, MCA, which set forth the procedure
for appealing both record and non-record justice court rulings to the district court. Section
25-33-304, MCA, provides: “For a failure to prosecute an appeal or unnecessary delay in
bringing it to a hearing, the district court may order the appeal to be dismissed, with costs;
. . . .” (Emphasis added.) As the language in both Rule 14(c), UMCRA, and § 25-33-304,
MCA, suggests, a district court judge has the discretion to dismiss--or decline to dismiss--an
appeal, for failure to file a timely brief. The court may do so, but no rule says the court must
do so. See Rickett v. City of Billings (1993), 262 Mont. 339, 864 P.2d 793 (a district court
is allowed to dismiss the appeal of a civil case under § 25-33-304, MCA). Accord, Eide Ins.
v. Correll (1970), 156 Mont. 167, 478 P.2d 272.
Under the applicable rule, statute, and case law, the District Court had the discretion
to dismiss Frazier’s appeal for his non-compliance with the rules of procedure. While we
review the grant or denial of a motion to dismiss de novo, we will not reverse a district court
for insisting that the parties before it timely comply with statutory directives and rules of
civil procedure. We therefore conclude the District Court did not err in dismissing Frazier’s
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the District Court.
/S/ PATRICIA O. COTTER
/S/ W. WILLIAM LEAPHART
/S/ JAMES C. NELSON
/S/ JOHN WARNER
/S/ JIM RICE