HELENA — A state judge illegally ordered the sale of guns seized from a criminal defendant, the Montana Supreme Court has ruled.
Justices on Tuesday sent the case back to District Court in Garfield County to strike the condition that guns taken from Alvin Cornell Lee after his arrest be sold, with the proceeds applied to jail costs incurred before he was sentenced.
Lee was charged in August 2013 with threatening a couple with a gun while trying to collect money he believed they owed him. He pleaded no contest to robbery, assault with a weapon and burglary and is serving a 10-year prison sentence.
However, he appealed an order that his seized guns be sold to help reimburse jail costs. The state conceded that portion of the sentence was illegal. As an alternative, the state suggested the proceeds of the gun sale should be given to Lee and the rest of the sentence, including a requirement that he pay more than $12,600 for jail and medical costs, be upheld.
The Supreme Court ruled the state cannot keep a defendant’s property without going through civil or criminal forfeiture proceedings. The justices also noted that the jail costs were not included in an itemized list of amounts District Judge George Huss ordered Lee to pay.
“Because the court lacked authority to order the sale of Lee’s firearms, the District Court must … strike that condition from the judgment,” Justice Beth Baker wrote for the court. “Once that condition is removed, Lee no longer will be responsible for his incarceration costs under any provision of the sentencing order.”
The court declined to consider arguments over whether the state could have legally ordered Lee to pay restitution for his jail costs.
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