|Judge||Honorable Donald R. Neese|
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Are you in the right court?
- Citations issued by Montana Highway Patrol and Custer County Sheriff’s Department, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, Motor Carrier Services of the Department of Transportation, Montana Department of Livestock and County Animal Control tickets are handled in Justice Court.
- Misdemeanor criminal charges filed by the Custer County Attorney’s office are also handled in the Justice Court.
- Justice Court processes civil actions up to $12,000.
- Justice Court processes Small Claims actions up to $7000.
- Justice Court also issues Orders of Protection and Search Warrants.
How Jury Service Operates
How was I chosen?
Your name was chosen at random from voter registration lists. Questionnaires are sent to the people whose names emerge from the random selection. Court personnel review the completed questionnaires to make sure that the minimum juror qualifications relating to age, citizenship, residency, etc., are met.
What if my boss doesn’t want me to serve?
The law makes clear that you must be excused from your job for jury service. You cannot be fired or demoted in any way for performing this public duty.
Will I be paid for jury service?
Current Montana law sets the compensation level for jurors at $12.00 plus $.50 for mileage. If you are selected to hear the case you will be paid an additional $25.00. Some employers are willing to pay their workers at the normal rate during jury service, and the workers then turn the County compensation amount over to the employer.
Can I be excused from jury service?
Judges can excuse people who show that they have a physical or mental disability that renders them incapable of jury service. Judges can also grant a postponement of jury service when they decide that such service would result in great hardship or inconvenience. But these postponements are rare. Everyone is inconvenienced to some degree by jury service, but for the system to work, people from all walks of life must be willing to serve. Those who refuse to complete the juror questionnaire or to appear when called to serve are subject to the imposition of fines and jail time.
Once I qualify for jury service, how long am I eligible for it?
When you receive your summons and questionnaire you will be notified of the period you are subject to call for jury duty. Expect to be on call twelve (12) months. You will remain on the jury panel for the entire period stated on your summons and questionnaire, but you will not be required to serve on more than one jury during the time you are on a jury list.
What happens after I am determined to be qualified for jury service?
You will receive notice from the court that you are on a jury panel. The notice will advise you of the date of the trial and its duration. You must check in with the court by calling 874-3408. In the event the trial has been cancelled, the Clerk of Justice Court will contact you by phone. You need to let your employer/teachers know when you are “on call” for jury service. But you shouldn’t take time off from work or school until you have actually been instructed to come to the Court.
How do I prepare for jury service?
Be sure to arrive at the courthouse on time. A latecomer can hold up a trial involving scores of people. Instructions from the court will tell you where to report in the building. Wear appropriate attire. Shorts or tank tops are prohibited.
The Jury Selection Process
What determines whether or not I serve on a jury?
Once you arrive at the Court, you will be signed in by the Clerk. Sometimes a case will settle out of court right before a trial is scheduled. For these or other reasons you might not be needed for the jury pool after all. When this happens, you will be dismissed for the day. Those of you assigned to a trial that is going forward will be escorted to the courtroom where the trial is taking place, and the selection process will begin. First, the judge will make a short statement describing the case, and identifying the parties to the case and their lawyers. During this process, the judge, and sometimes the counsel for each side, will ask you questions, which you are required to answer truthfully. The questions asked are aimed at finding out if any panel members have a personal interest in the case or if there is some other reason why they could not render an impartial verdict.
Why are potential jurors sometimes asked personal questions during the juror selection process?
In some cases, you may be asked questions about your background that makes you uncomfortable. The court does not wish to invade your privacy. But it is sometimes necessary for the court to know these facts to ensure a fair trial. If you are uncomfortable about answering a question, you can request to discuss it with the judge privately in chambers (in his or her office).
What are “challenges?”
The process through which a lawyer for either side asks that a panel member be excused is called a “challenge.” There are two types of challenges:
Challenges for cause: Here the lawyer claims on the basis of information provided by the panel member that he or she might not be able to render an impartial verdict. An example of a challenge for cause might be one in which a lawyer asks to excuse a panel member from serving during an auto theft trial since the juror’s car had been stolen just the week before. The judge will grant challenges for cause if he or she agrees with the lawyer’s argument that impartiality might be threatened.
Peremptory challenges: Each side has a limited number of challenges for which no reason need be given. These peremptory challenges give both sides some choice in the make-up of the jury. At the end of the selection process, those in the panel who have been “challenged” will be excused, and those remaining will be sworn in as jurors.
Does failure to be chosen for a jury mean I did something wrong in the selection process?
Not at all. The fact that a person is not chosen for a jury panel is no reflection whatsoever on that person’s integrity or worthiness to serve. People not chosen for one panel will often find themselves chosen for another.
The Trial Process
Will I have to be sequestered away from my family during a long trial?
Long trials are rare. Most last only one day. Juries are very seldom sequestered. Years go by with not one jury in the County being sequestered. The courts cannot guarantee that the trial won’t be long, or that you won’t be sequestered, but both events are highly unlikely.
What’s the difference between a criminal and a civil case?
Criminal: In a criminal case a person called the defendant is charged with a violation of the law. The attorney representing the state or local government is called the prosecutor or County Attorney. In criminal cases the judge will inform the jury about the law, and the jury must decide if the defendant has broken that law. Criminal verdicts in Montana must be unanimous. In criminal cases, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.Prior to the criminal trial, the defendant will have appeared before the judge to plead guilty or not guilty to the criminal charges. This hearing before the judge is called an arraignment.
Civil: Civil cases involve disputes (usually about money) which the parties haven’t been able to solve between themselves, and have turned to the court system to resolve. The person bringing the complaint in a civil suit is called the plaintiff. The one defending him or herself against the complaint is the defendant. In a civil case, the jury is asked to determine which side is favored by the preponderance of evidence. Civil jury decisions can be made by a two-thirds majority of jurors. A unanimous verdict is not required, as it is in a criminal trial.
What is my most important job as a juror?
As a juror, your major job is that of fact finder. You must listen carefully for the facts presented as evidence by each side, and use your life experience and common sense to make a judgment. It is very important to keep an open mind while all the evidence is being presented. Making your mind up early in the trial, before all the evidence is in, could result in a failure to reach a fair and just verdict.
How is a trial conducted?
- The trial usually begins with opening statements from each side. These are summaries reviewing what each side intends to prove during its presentation of the case. Note that these statements are not evidence.
- Each side presents its case, with witnesses and other evidence. Witnesses called by either side are subject to cross-examination by the other side.
- The judge delivers instructions to the jury regarding the relevant law.The prosecution (or plaintiff) and defense present closing arguments.
- The prosecution (plaintiff) then presents a rebuttal of the points made by the defense.
- The jury retires to deliberate.
- The jury reaches and announces its verdict.
What is happening when a lawyer “objects” to a question asked by the other side?
Throughout the trial, the judge may be asked to decide questions of law. Usually these questions concern objections to testimony that one side wants to present. By law, it is the judge’s job to decide such questions. A ruling by the judge does not indicate that he or she is taking sides. The judge is just determining that the law does or does not permit that question to be asked.
Why will the jurors sometimes be asked to leave while the judge talks to the lawyers? Sometimes the judge will ask jurors to leave the room while lawyers make arguments for and against admission of a particular piece of evidence or on some other point of law. Jurors are asked not to speculate about what was discussed, but instead to base their reasoning only on what is presented to them.
At what point can I discuss the trial with others?
It is important that you not discuss the trial with anyone (even fellow jurors) until the jury is sent out to deliberate. In a multi-day trial you must not discuss the case with family members, friends, or anyone else. If someone approaches you in the courthouse or elsewhere and tries to discuss the trial with you, leave immediately, and report the incident to the court (the judge). The bailiff will deliver any written messages you wish to convey to the judge. Jurors must make their decision on the basis of the evidence presented at the trial, and not on the basis of any outside information about the case. For this reason jurors are prohibited from reading, watching, or listening to any media accounts of the trial, and from visiting the crime scene themselves or trying to discover any information about the crime scene on their own.
What happens during deliberations?
At the beginning of deliberations, you will be asked to select a foreperson. It is that person’s job to preside over the deliberations and you should enter the discussion with an open mind and freely exchange views. You shouldn’t hesitate to change your opinion if the deliberations convince you that they were wrong initially. You are obligated to reach a verdict whenever possible. But no juror is required to give up any opinion which he or she is convinced is correct.
What happens after jury service is completed?
After you return to the courtroom and your verdict is announced, the judge will formally dismiss you from jury service. You may then freely discuss the case, but you are not required to discuss the case with anyone. One or more of the lawyers in the case may want to discuss the verdict or the deliberations with you. You may talk to them if you wish, but are under no obligation to do so.
Orders of Protection
These documents are known by several names including restraining orders, TRO’s, TOP and OOP’s. The purpose of an order of protection is to promote the safety and protection of victims of partner and family member assault, victims of sexual assault, and victims of stalking.The person requesting the order of protection is known as the Petitioner. The person the order is against is known as the Respondent. A petitioner may be eligible for an order of protection if he/she has reasonable apprehension of bodily injury or is the victim of an assault, intimidation, stalking, etc.The first course of action in obtaining an order of protection is for the petitioner to contact CNADA (Custer Network Against Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault). CNADA is located at 2000 Clark Street in Miles City. Their phone number is 234-0542 or toll free 1-888-799-0542. These advocates will be able to properly advise the petitioner and assist in preparation of the necessary forms. The advocates will also assist in arranging an appointment with the judge.
It must be made clear that an order of protection is not an “iron curtain” of protection for the petitioner. It does serve to allow the courts to take criminal action against a respondent if violations of the order occur.
More information about Orders of Protection can be found at the Montana Department of Justice Web Site
Criminal vs Civil Case
What’s the difference between a criminal and a civil case?Criminal and civil cases may be heard by a judge or a jury. If a trial is by judge, there is no jury and the judge makes the decision based on the testimony and evidence presented.Criminal Case
In a criminal case a person called the defendant is charged with a violation of the law. The attorney representing the state or local government is called the prosecutor or County Attorney. In criminal cases the judge will inform the jury about the law, and the jury must decide if the defendant has broken that law. Criminal verdicts in Montana must be unanimous. In criminal cases, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. Prior to the criminal trial, the defendant will have appeared before the judge to plead guilty or not guilty to the criminal charges. This hearing before the judge is called an arraignment.
Civil cases involve disputes (usually about money) which the parties haven’t been able to solve between themselves, and have turned to the court system to resolve. The person bringing the complaint in a civil suit is called the plaintiff. The one defending him or herself against the complaint is the defendant. In a civil case, the jury is asked to determine which side is favored by the preponderance of evidence. Civil jury decisions can be made by a two-thirds majority of jurors. A unanimous verdict is not required, as it is in a criminal trial. As of July 1, 2011, Justice Court has a monetary limitation of $12,000 for civil cases. If the amount in dispute is more than $12,000 the case must be filed in District Court.
- State Law Library of Montana Courts (Find a lawyer, find forms, look for laws, legal terms, etc)
- Montana Codes Montana Law
- Montana Legal Service (Legal information and self-help for non-criminal problems)
- Alcohol/Drug Services
- Driver’s License Suspension/Reinstatement
- Landlord Tenant Information
- Montana State Bar Association
Tips for Representing Yourself
The court is a very traditional and polite place where a certain demeanor (way of acting) is expected. When you are representing yourself, you are trying to persuade a judge that you are right. You must act and speak in a way that helps you with your case.
Before You Begin
- Designate a notebook and folder to hold all of your court records and forms and to record all of the activities related to the case.
- Keep all of your legal papers and case related documents in one place and organized.
- Keep track of all conversations you have with others regarding your case.
- Verify that you are in the correct county.
Preparing Your Forms
- Make sure you have chosen the correct forms for your case.
- Make sure that all of the required information is attached to the forms and documents.
- Make photocopies for your own records.
Preparing For Court
- Choosing to represent oneself in court is a big decision. In many matters it may be best to get some legal advice ahead of time from an attorney so that you are sure you are doing the right thing, and are prepared for the court hearing. If unsure, or afraid of the court process, it may be best to seek the help of an attorney for the entire process.
- Dress professionally, as you would for an important event. This means that your clothing should be neat and clean, and that you are well groomed.
- Do not bring your children into court.
- Do not chew gum.
- Look over the forms and materials you are going to present in court. Make sure they are filled in accurately and completely and that you have made the proper number of copies for the court.
- If the opposing party, or his or her attorney, requests case related information from you, you must comply. This process is called Discovery, and it must be followed to go to court prepared. It is necessary for parties to honestly share particular financial and other material with one another.
- All witnesses must be present. Verify that those people you wish to serve as your witnesses will be available at the time of your hearing.
- Be sure to bring with you the notebook in which you have recorded all the related events, as well as the folder with all the case-related documents. You must also bring paper and a pen to take notes. It also is very helpful to make notes before you come to court so you are and know exactly what you want to say. You may need to prepare other necessary documents after the hearing.
Going To Court
- BE ON TIME! The court has a very busy schedule. If you are late, your case might be postponed to another date or dismissed entirely. You also could have a judgment or unfavorable ruling made against you if you are not there to defend your case.
- As soon as you arrive check in at the courts front counter for assignment to a courtroom. This will allow the clerks to advise the Judge that parties are present and prepared to proceed.
- You must be respectful to everyone in court. This includes the judge court staff, the other party involved in your case, witnesses, and any other people in the area.
- You should address the judge as ‘Your Honor.’
- Do not use profanity, argue, or verbally react to answers given in court by the judge opposing party, or attorney. You will have your turn to speak.
- The judge cannot speak to you about your case except when your case is in court and when the other party is there. Court staff can help you with questions such as when your hearing is scheduled, or if you are in the right courtroom, but they cannot give you legal advice or recommendations about what you should do.
- Always be polite to judges and court staff, and be prepared to provide any information they may request from you.
- Always Remember The Four Ps: Professionalism – Punctuality – Politeness – Preparation
- Be sure to provide the court with changes to your address or phone number.
- Respond to court notices and correspondence as soon as possible.
Following these tips will go a long way toward helping YOU help yourself in court!
Does the Custer County Justice Court perform wedding ceremonies?Yes, the Justice Court judges routinely perform wedding ceremonies, during office hours or by appointment outside of office hours.Do I need to have a marriage license to get married in the state of Montana?
Yes, you must obtain your license from the Clerk of District Court. You must provide a rubella test along with any documents regarding divorce decrees.
Who can perform marriage ceremonies in the state of Montana?
Any judge, including judges of state and federal courts, Justice of the Peace, minister, or other person of any religious society or sect authorized by the rules of such society to perform the marriage ceremony.
Is there a fee for having a wedding ceremony performed by a magistrate at the courthouse?
Yes there is a $20.00 fee for marriages performed at the court (fee is donated to CNADA or the Miles City Public Library). There is a $100 fee for weddings performed away from the court. You must contact the court to determine judge’s availability and additional costs away from the court.
Do I need an appointment to be married by a judge at the court facility?
Yes, you should contact the court at (406) 874-3408 after you have picked up your marriage license.