Missoula’s Municipal Court will not send defendants to jail for city ordinances violating

A District Court judge has ordered Missoula’s Municipal Court judges not to send defendants to the county jail for violations of city ordinances. District Judge Ed McLean said in the court’s order that only those defendants accused of breaking state laws should be in the Missoula County Detention Facility, which has been at capacity for 18 months.

“A municipal judge may not send someone to the Missoula County Detention Facility for violation of a municipal ordinance,” McLean wrote. “If the judge sends someone to the Missoula County Detention Facility for violation of a state statute, then the judge must cite the statute under which the person is being detained.”

In the ruling, Judge Mclean also noted the detention facility had received inmates from Mineral County under improper conditions. “This court has been advised that the Missoula County Detention Facility has received custody of individuals whose warrants out of the Mineral County Justice Court provide that the inmate cannot be released until such time as the inmate has been brought before the Mineral County Justice of the Peace,” reads the order.

The defendant whose incarceration was in question was released the same day, as reported. The order from District Court noted the detention facility had received “defendants from Municipal Court who have been referred to the Detention Facility pending the posting of bond.”

But the order said criminal offenses punishable only by fines are municipal infractions and should not lead to jail time: “The Missoula County Detention Facility shall not admit any person into detention for violation of a Missoula city ordinance. The state statute under which a person is ordered confined must be stated in the Missoula Municipal Court’s detention order.”

Judge Jenks, head of Municipal Court, said the city likely will ask for reconsideration. She said she believes the city has the legal authority to set misdemeanor ordinances and state law has authorized those offenders be held at the detention facility.

The jail has been at capacity – at least 80 percent full – for an estimated year and a half, according to officials from the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department.

Last fall, detention officers observed the bulk of the cells were filled with people who had committed minor offenses, and they noted the cells had reached consistent capacity after Jenks took office.