The Montana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday to uphold the Jefferson County District Court’s ruling against convicted malamute abuser Mike Chilinski.
Chilinski was sentenced to 30 years in the Montana Department of Corrections with 25 suspended in October 2012 after a jury found him guilty of 91 counts of animal cruelty.
In September 2013, Chilinski filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court arguing that the District Court erred in three areas during the proceedings: denying Chilinski’s motion to suppress, limiting evidence to the time period of the charged offenses and ordering the forfeiture of all of Chilinski’s dogs.
According to the decision, an October 2011 search of his property revealed, “Of the 139 dogs examined, 35 were extremely underweight, 49 were underweight, and 30 showed signs of malnourishment.
“Many of the dogs had visible scars or other injuries, including missing or damaged ears,” the decision said. “Several required immediate veterinary attention for distended abdomens, ear and eye infections, and open wounds.”
When the case went to trial, Chilinski filed a motion to suppress evidence from the search arguing that the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office violated his Fourth Amendment rights by using volunteers from the Humane Society of the United States to aid in the investigation and seizure of animals using a search warrant that was “unconstitutionally overbroad,” the Supreme Court decision said.
He also argued the sheriff’s office violated his rights by “impermissibly disseminating confidential criminal justice information” to those volunteers, the decision said.
The Supreme Court decision rules that the District Court did not violate any of Chilinski’s rights by using the volunteers because the search warrant “enabled JCSO to ‘reasonably ascertain and identify the things which [were] authorized to be searched,’” and “the warrant was specifically directed to ‘any and all agents (Deputy) [McFadden] may require.’”
“Thus ... the volunteers were authorized by law to receive such information in order to safely and timely execute the search warrant,” the decision said.
In the second part of his appeal, Chilinski argued the District Court abused its discretion by limiting trial evidence to the time period of the charged offenses, excluding evidence from a 2009 search of the property and numerous complaints in the time between that search and the incriminating one in 2011.
The Supreme Court again defends the lower court’s actions.
“When Chilinski moved to admit evidence of the 2009 inspection during trial, a lengthy discussion ensured in which the District Court questions the relevance of the inspection,” the decision said. “Thus, the record shows that the District Court carefully considered Chilinski’s motion and that Chilinski was allowed to present evidence of justification.”
In the final portion of his appeal, Chilinski asserts that the court again abused its discretion, this time for ordering the forfeiture of all of his dogs.
He argued that he had a right to maintain ownership of the dogs not identified as victims of animal cruelty in the case, but the District Court denied that assertion and it was affirmed by the Supreme Court in its decision.
“At sentencing, the State argued that the uncharged dogs were also affected, citing evidence that all dogs suffered from a lack of adequate food, water and infestations of diseases and parasites,” the decision said. “The state also argued that nearly half of the puppies born to pregnant dogs died and that this supported the conclusion that all the dogs were affected by Chilinski’s neglect.
“The court also noted that Chilinski had insufficient funds available to care for the dogs, and that there was no indication Chilinski could provide viable treatment for injury and disease if the dogs were returned to him,” the decision said.
Chilinski is currently in custody at the Crossroads Correctional Facility in Shelby and will reside there for the remainder of his sentence.