A Mount Out of a Molehill

By Kellyn Brown

Montana Supreme Court rulings are, on their face, often perplexing. That’s part of the problem. To simplify one of its most recent decisions is arduous, but the following is the brunt of an inane reversal that involves alcohol, intimacy and a couple of Constitutions:

A deputy spotted a man legally driving a Chevy pickup in a rural area outside of Laurel. She then saw the same truck parked in a dirt pullout and assumed the driver was having engine problems. She investigated and, according to court records, saw the driver and his common-law wife kissing and noticed that the woman was trying to “mount” the man. The deputy approached the couple to tell them to move along and subsequently found a cold beer can outside the pickup. The driver was slurring his speech and smelled of alcohol. He was arrested for drunken driving and failing to carry insurance. Case closed?

Not quite. The man appealed the District Court conviction and managed to get his case before a sympathetic state Supreme Court, which overturned the lower court ruling and remanded it for further proceedings. Justice Jim Rice was the lone dissent, arguing that observing a woman “mounting” a man in broad daylight was a sufficient reason for an officer to inquire. “However, from now on,” he wrote, “officers will only be able to wave as they drive by.”

He makes a solid, albeit tongue in cheek, point. We need more personal liberties and it’s revolting to see them trampled on with increasing regularity under the veil of protectionism. But, if what this deputy reported is true, then she had every right to initially investigate. When I’m parked along obscure roads I expect passing officers to observe why, and then have their curiosity piqued if they spy any canoodling.

And in this case, the deputy’s instinct to move along the couple was correct. Both parties’ trousers were partially undone and, while it’s not explained in the court ruling, it appears that neither fell down by freak accident. A few more minutes of alone time and both passengers could have been cited for lewd offenses.

Those concurring with the majority decision, however, say in regard to simple broad-daylight mounting, which the officer initially spotted, “the Legislature has not yet outlawed the type of conduct, in which (the parties) were engaging.”

Thus, a lawmaker must introduce a bill that explicitly outlaws this type of behavior in motor vehicles, which would ruin it for all of those impassioned, buttoned-up drivers that aren’t hammered. Rather, this man’s plight should be attributed to dumb luck: He was driving drunk, opted to attract attention and got caught.

The complexities of law are too vast for a scribe to dissect, but how our justices interpret each rule often appears to be a crapshoot. I applaud the high court protecting my personal liberties, keeping the government out of my home and off my back. But, without the burden of studying the true meaning of each line in Montana Code Annotated, my ruling in this case would be as follows:

“Yes sir, I know the deputy was initially checking on your well-being. But what exactly were you thinking? Driving drunk, with no insurance and too much time to canoodle on your hands. I hope you learned your lesson. The ruling stands and, remember, you should not encourage such blatant dumb luck.”

Admittedly, that’s far too simple.

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