A District Court judge has upheld the drunken-driving conviction of Carbon County Justice of the Peace Johnny Seiffert.
Judge Loren Tucker said in an order filed Monday in Carbon County District Court that Seiffert failed to show that his rights were violated. Seiffert had claimed on appeal that evidence that could have proved his innocence was suppressed by the prosecution.
Seiffert was charged with misdemeanor DUI for a rollover accident on Highway 78 in April 2008. A Montana Highway Patrol trooper arrested Seiffert at the scene of the crash after he refused to perform a field sobriety test.
In January, Seiffert pleaded no contest to the charge, but reserved his right to appeal. His suspended 10-day jail term and $685 in fines and court costs were stayed while his appeal was considered. Sieffert was also ordered to perform 40 hours of community service and attend an alcohol awareness class.
It was not clear on Thursday when Sieffert would begin serving his sentence following the dismissal of his appeal. Seiffert’s attorney, Robert Stephens, was not immediately available for comment, and Sweet Grass County Attorney Patrick Dringman, who prosecuted the case, was unavailable.
Stephens argued on appeal that evidence showing Sieffert was not intoxicated before the crash was not provided to Sieffert by prosecutors. The evidence, the nature of which was not immediately clear from the ruling, would have changed the outcome of his case had it gone to trial, the defense argued.
Tucker, who presided over the appeal, said prosecutors did not have a duty to collect and preserve evidence it does not already control on behalf of a defendant. The disputed evidence, the judge said, was not suppressed by the prosecution because it did not have control of it.
Sieffert was sentenced by Judge Michele Snowberger, a city judge from Belgrade who presided over his case in Carbon County. At the sentencing hearing, Snowberger told Sieffert she had “great respect” for him and recognized his “great contribution to the judiciary.”
But Snowberger also encouraged Sieffert to “take a look at what happened” so he may avoid “some of the horrible damage and dangers that come from drinking and driving.”
The trooper who investigated the crash said Sieffert suffered a minor head injury when his pickup truck went off the two-lane highway between Red Lodge and Columbus at about 10:30 p.m. The truck rolled once and came to rest among some trees. Sieffert, who was wearing a seat belt, smelled of alcohol, the trooper said.
Sieffert told the trooper he crashed when he swerved to avoid a deer. He questioned the trooper’s probable cause when asked to perform a field sobriety test, and he then twice refused to take the test. The incident was captured on the trooper’s patrol car video.
Dringman said evidence suggested that the crash happened because Seiffert’s ability to drive safely was impaired by alcohol. Sieffert admitted to drinking three 16-ounce beers before the crash, Dringman said.
It is Seiffert’s first DUI conviction. He was charged with a misdemeanor DUI in 2000, but the charge was later dismissed.