Attorney: Judge violated client's rights at trial

2013-05-10T15:18:00Z 2014-01-27T17:45:04Z Attorney: Judge violated client's rights at trialBy GREG TUTTLE gtuttle@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The assault convictions of a Joliet man found guilty at a trial in April should be tossed because a judge improperly spoke to the jury during deliberations, according to a motion filed in Carbon County District Court.

Writing on behalf of Peter Clifton Northcutt, Billings attorney Penny Strong states in the motion filed this week that Judge Loren Tucker violated her client's due-process rights at his trial.

Strong said the violation happened when Tucker entered the jury room during deliberations and asked the panel about their progress.

The judge's "intrusion," Strong states, "may have influenced the progress of their deliberations, and possibly caused them to believe they needed to shorten that invaluable and protected function of a jury deciding if, and when, and why to convict or not convict a fellow citizen for whom they sit in judgment."

Tucker did not advise either Strong or the prosecution that he intended to speak with the jury, Strong's motion states, and the act may have also violated Northcutt's right to a public trial.

Criminal defendants also have a right to be present at all stages of their trial, Strong said.

In the motion, Strong points to a 2001 Supreme Court decision in a Yellowstone County case of attempted murder and kidnapping in which a new trial was ordered because the judge entered the jury room during deliberations. 

Strong argues that the action by the judge was damaging enough to the legal process that the convictions should be reversed. The motion requests a hearing on the issue.

Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon has not yet responded to the motion, which was filed Thursday. He could not be reached for comment on Friday. 

Northcutt, 52, was convicted of three counts of felony assault on a peace officer after a three-day trial in early April.

Northcutt was found guilty of pointing a shotgun at a sheriff's deputy, then firing toward the deputy and another officer who were watching him from a distance.

The jury acquitted Northcutt of aggravated animal cruelty for shooting 55 sled dogs.

Northcutt remains free on a $100,000 bond while he awaits sentencing.

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