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State v. Montplaisir

Supreme Court of North Dakota

September 17, 2015

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
Steven James Montplaisir, Defendant and Appellant

As Corrected October 27, 2015.

Page 436

Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable John C. Irby, Judge.

Renata June Olafson Selzer, Assistant State's Attorney, Fargo, N.D., for plaintiff and appellee.

Jonathan T. Garaas, DeMores Office Park, Fargo, N.D., for defendant and appellant.

Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers, Dale V. Sandstrom, Carol Ronning Kapsner, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J. Opinion of the Court by McEvers, Justice.


Page 437

Lisa Fair McEvers, Justice.

[¶1] Steven J. Montplaisir appeals from a criminal judgment entered after a jury found him guilty of criminal vehicular injury. Montplaisir argues the criminal information was deficient, the criminal vehicular

Page 438

injury statute is unconstitutionally vague, the jury instructions were improper, and the evidence was insufficient to find him guilty. We affirm, concluding Montplaisir had proper notice of the charges against him, the criminal vehicular injury statute is not vague, the jury was properly instructed, there was sufficient evidence to find him guilty, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing the statutory mandatory minimum sentence.


[¶2] On September 20, 2013, a motorcycle stopped at an intersection in Fargo was struck from behind by a pickup driven by Montplaisir. A Fargo police officer was also stopped at the intersection and observed the victim jumping around and screaming. The officer noticed Montplaisir had the strong odor of alcohol and slurred speech. Another officer arrived at the scene to investigate Montplaisir for driving under the influence. Montplaisir failed field sobriety tests and laboratory results indicated he had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.217 percent. Montplaisir was arrested and charged with criminal vehicular injury, a class C felony. The criminal information alleged Montplaisir drove a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and, as a result, he caused substantial bodily or serious bodily injury to another individual.

[¶3] The victim was initially treated at Essentia Hospital for pain to his leg and ankles, and a cut to his leg requiring stitches. Following the accident, the victim made additional visits to the emergency room reporting continued severe pain in his leg. One of his leg wounds became infected and he also complained of having neck and back discomfort.

[¶4] Before the preliminary hearing, Montplaisir submitted a brief arguing the criminal information was deficient. Specifically, he argued he did not cause a substantial or serious bodily injury to the victim, one of the essential elements of criminal vehicular injury. The State responded with a brief providing a more detailed factual background of the accident. The State's brief also described some of the victim's injuries to his leg and stated it would provide more details at the preliminary hearing. After hearing testimony at the preliminary hearing from the victim and one of the police officers responding to the accident, the district court found probable cause existed to bind Montplaisir over for trial on the charge of criminal vehicular injury.

[¶5] After the preliminary hearing, Montplaisir moved to dismiss the information arguing, as a matter of law, the victim's injury was not serious or substantial, and the criminal vehicular injury statute is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The court denied his motions, concluding the statute was not unconstitutionally vague or overbroad, and whether the victim's injury was serious or substantial was a question for the jury.

[¶6] At trial in November 2014, the State's witnesses included the victim and two doctors who treated him following the accident. The victim's medical records were also admitted into evidence. Montplaisir moved for a judgment of acquittal under N.D.R.Crim.P. 29 at the conclusion of the State's case, arguing there was no evidence the victim suffered a substantial or serious bodily injury. The court denied the motion. After the conclusion of Montplaisir's case, he requested a jury instruction on culpability and an instruction on the legal definitions of " serious bodily injury" and " substantial bodily injury." The district court denied Montplaisir's requests, and a jury found him guilty. The court sentenced Montplaisir to one year in

Page 439

prison and 18 months of supervised probation following his release from prison.


[¶7] Montplaisir argues the district court made numerous errors in the pretrial and trial stages of the proceedings. Much of Montplaisir's argument centers around the phrase " substantial bodily or serious bodily injury" as it is used in N.D.C.C. § 39-08-01.2(2). Montplaisir first argues the court erred in not dismissing a deficient information, and the State presented insufficient evidence at the preliminary hearing.


[¶8] Montplaisir argues the district court erred in failing to dismiss the criminal information because the information did not describe the nature of the victim's injuries; it only states the victim suffered substantial or serious bodily injury. He argues the information asserts only legal conclusions of substantial or serious bodily injury to the victim, without describing the nature of any injury.

[¶9] Under N.D.R.Crim.P. 7(c)(1), an information must contain " a plain, concise, and definite written statement of the essential facts constituting the elements of the offense charged." An information is adequate if it is " sufficiently specific to provide the defendant with notice of the pending charges to enable the defendant to prepare a defense." State v. Bertram, 2006 ND 10, ¶ 23, 708 N.W.2d 913. Generally, an information is sufficient if it sets forth the offense in the words of the statute. Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 117, 94 S.Ct. 2887, 41 L.Ed.2d 590 (1974).

[¶10] Nearly 40 years ago, this Court addressed an argument regarding an insufficient information:

In these days of broadening pretrial discovery in criminal cases, open or almost completely open prosecutorial files, and availability of omnibus hearings and pretrial conferences, it would be almost anachronistic to reverse a conviction because the language of the information or indictment is insufficiently detailed.
When the prosecutor's files are generally open to the defense, when motions for discovery and for bills of particulars may be made, it would be most surprising if the defendant and his attorney were unaware prior to trial of the claims of the prosecution . . . and the facts upon which the prosecution relies.

State v. Motsko, 261 N.W.2d 860, 864 (N.D. 1977) (internal citations omitted).

[¶11] Here, the information charging Montplaisir with criminal vehicular injury under N.D.C.C. § ...

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