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DANIEL JAMES MAROZZO v. STATE OF MONTANA
Case Number: 2020 MT 289N
Judge: Jim Rice
Court: IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF MONTANA
Plaintiff's Attorney: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Brad Fjeldheim, Assistant
Attorney General, Helena, Montana
Marcia Jean Boris, Lincoln County Attorney, Libby, Montana
Just Call 855-853-4800 for Free Help Finding a Lawyer Help You.
Libby, MT - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant Rodney Dain Doster with appealing from the September 19, 2019 Order of the Nineteenth Judicial District Court, Lincoln County, denying his petition for postconviction relief.
In November 2015, Marozzo was charged with felony DUI and misdemeanor
driving while license suspended or revoked in Lincoln County, DC 15-92. During this
time, charges were pending against Marozzo in Butte-Silver Bow County, for felony DUI,
misdemeanor habitual traffic offender, and misdemeanor driving while license is
suspended or revoked stemming from a November 2014 arrest. In February 2016, Marozzo
was found guilty by a jury of felony DUI in the Butte-Silver Bow matter, his fourth DUI
conviction. In March 2016, Marozzo was charged with felony criminal endangerment,
felony DUI, misdemeanor driving while license suspended or revoked, misdemeanor
failure to show proof of liability insurance, and fleeing from peace officer, in Lincoln
County, DC 16-22.
¶4 On May 2, 2016, Marozzo entered into an Acknowledgment and Waiver of Rights
and Plea Agreement regarding DC 15-92 and DC 16-22, under which Marozzo pled guilty
to felony DUI in DC 15-92, and felony Criminal Endangerment in DC 16-22. In exchange,
the State dropped all other charges and withdrew the persistent felony designation it had
sought. The agreement included a joint recommendation that the District Court impose a
five-year commitment to the Department of Corrections for each offense, which was to run
concurrently with Marozzo’s sentence from Butte-Silver Bow County, and that Marozzo
receive 140 days credit for time served. On May 9, 2016, the District Court imposed the
jointly recommended sentences.
¶5 Marozzo filed a motion to withdraw from the plea agreement and, after it was denied
by the District Court, filed a second, amended motion to withdraw his pleas. This motion
was also denied by the District Court on the ground Marozzo had failed to present evidence
demonstrating his pleas were not entered knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently.
Marozzo appealed and we affirmed, noting that “Marozzo received the exact sentence for
which he bargained including withdrawal of PFO designation, dismissal with prejudice of
the remaining charges, credit for time served, and concurrence with the Silver Bow County
matter.” State v. Marozzo, No. DA 17-0307, 2018 MT 131N, ¶ 7, 2018 Mont. LEXIS 174.
¶6 Marozzo then filed for postconviction relief in June 2019, alleging his counsel had
been ineffective by negotiating an unlawful sentence as part of the plea agreement, thereby
invalidating his convictions in DC 15-92 and DC 16-22. He argued his sentence in
DC 15-92 was unlawful because it was his fourth such offense and, pursuant to
§ 61-8-731(1)(a), (b), MCA, his sentence of five years exceeded the maximum sentence
that could not be “more than 2 years.” Section 61-8-731(1)(a), MCA.
¶7 After initially dismissing his petition as untimely, the District Court granted
Marozzo’s petition for reconsideration, but denied the petition on the merits on the ground
that Marozzo had failed to establish that his counsel’s performance fell below an objective
standard of reasonableness. From this order, Marozzo appeals.
¶8 “We review a district court’s denial of a petition for post-conviction relief to
determine whether the court’s findings of fact are clearly erroneous and whether its
conclusions of law are correct.” Heath v. State, 2009 MT 7, ¶ 13, 348 Mont. 361, 202 P.3d
118 (citing Jordan v. State, 2007 MT 165, ¶ 5, 338 Mont. 113, 162 P.3d 863).
Discretionary rulings in postconviction relief proceedings are reviewed for an abuse of
discretion. Heath, ¶ 13 (noting that this includes rulings relating whether to hold an
evidentiary hearing) (citing State v. Morgan, 2003 MT 193, ¶ 7, 316 Mont. 509, 74 P.3d
1047). “Ineffective assistance of counsel claims present mixed issues of fact and law,
which we review de novo.” State v. Sartain, 2010 MT 213, ¶ 11, 357 Mont. 483, 241 P.3d
1032 (citing State v. Herman, 2008 MT 187, ¶ 10, 343 Mont. 494, 188 P.3d 978).
¶9 We review ineffective assistance of counsel claims by application of the two-prong
test established in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S. Ct. 2052 (1984). State
v. Main, 2011 MT 123, ¶ 47, 360 Mont. 470, 255 P.3d 1240. Under this test, a defendant
bears the burden of proving that (1) counsel’s performance was deficient; and (2) the
deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687, 104 S. Ct. at
2064. To satisfy the first prong, a defendant must show that “counsel’s conduct fell below
an objective standard of reasonableness measured under prevailing professional norms and
in light of surrounding circumstances.” Whitlow v. State, 2008 MT 140, ¶ 20, 343 Mont.
90, 183 P.3d 861. To satisfy the second prong, the defendant must show that “there was a
reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, the result of the proceeding would
have been different.” Main, ¶ 47 (citing State v. Kougl, 2004 MT 243, ¶ 11, 323 Mont. 6,
97 P.3d 1095).
¶10 Marozzo makes the same argument on appeal as he did before the District Court,
but it is based on a false premise. The Presentence Investigation Report explains that
Marozzo’s DUI conviction in Butte-Silver Bow County was his fourth such offense.
Therefore, DC 15-92 was subject to § 61-8-731(3), MCA, the applicable sentencing statute
for offenders with “four or more prior [DUI] convictions.” Section 61-8-731(3), MCA.
As such, the appropriate sentence was “a term of not less than 13 months or more than 5
years[.]” Section 61-8-731(3), MCA. Because a five-year sentence was permissible under
the applicable sentencing statute, a lawful sentence recommendation was negotiated under
the plea agreement.
¶11 Consequently, the first prong of Strickland is not satisfied because Marozzo failed
to prove his counsel’s performance “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness[.]”
Whitlow, ¶ 20. As the District Court noted, Marozzo’s counsel obtained a very favorable
outcome for Marozzo. Starting with three separate incidents that would have been subject
to three separate, consecutive sentences, Marozzo’s counsel was able to arrange for all
three sentences to run concurrently. The Butte-Silver Bow County matter was his fourth
DUI conviction, with a potential to carry a two-year sentence. Section 61-8-731(1)(a),
MCA. The DC 15-92 felony DUI was his fifth such conviction with the potential to carry
a five-year maximum sentence. Section 61-8-731(3), MCA. The DC 16-22 charge of
felony Criminal Endangerment had the potential to lead to a sentence of ten years.
Section 45-5-207(3), MCA. Had counsel not secured the plea agreement, not only would
Marozzo have been subject to designation as a Persistent Felony Offender, but he would
have faced up to seventeen years in prison, with no concurrent sentencing. The five-year
commitment that Marozzo agreed to “willingly, voluntarily, and intelligently” substantially
reduced his sentence and was favorable to his interests. Applying de novo review, we find
that the District Court’s conclusions of law were correct.
¶12 We have determined to decide this case pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c) of our
Internal Operating Rules, which provides for memorandum opinions. In the opinion of the
Court, the case presents a question controlled by settled law or by the clear application of
applicable standards of review.