Earlier this year, the Montana Supreme Court heard oral arguments in an appeal filed by Cody Marble, who was convicted of raping another boy when the teens were in a Missoula juvenile detention center in 2002. A little over one year ago, the victim killed himself during a several-hour standoff with Havre police after a traffic stop.
The victim accused Marble of raping him in a shower, and parts of the victim’s testimony were corroborated by other juveniles housed at the facility. Throughout the ordeal, Marble has denied that the offense occurred.
Several years after Marble’s conviction, after a visit from the Montana Innocence Project, the victim recanted his trial testimony, signing a statement that the rape never occurred. However, when pushed by the prosecutor a few months later, he again shifted gears, stating that Marble did force him to have sex against his will.
Marble’s attorney requested postconviction relief, arguing that the victim was not believable, given his changing stories. However, the district judge ruled against Marble, rejecting this argument. The district judge held that Marble had failed to “affirmatively and unquestionably establish” his innocence.
Marble appealed to the Montana Supreme Court, requesting that he be granted a new trial because new evidence, the victim’s changing stories, might lead to a different outcome for him. In essence, Marble is seeking the opportunity to show a jury the different statements presented by the victim.
At the argument, the State’s lawyer argued that before a new trial could be granted, Marble had to show that he “did not commit the offense for which the jury convicted” him. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the district court used the wrong standard to evaluate Marble’s request for a new trial. The Court held that Marble should not have been required to establish his innocence “affirmatively and unquestionably.”
Instead, the district court should have considered “whether the ‘newly discovered evidence . . ., if proved and viewed in light of the evidence as a whole[,] would establish that the petitioner did not engage in the criminal conduct.'” Marble v. State (“Marble IV”). This standard was proper because it tracked the language of the applicable law, Montana Code Annotated 46-21-102.
Because the district court used the wrong standard to evaluate Marble’s motion for a new trial, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the district court, directing the lower court to reconsider Marble’s request under the standard it laid out in its opinion. As a result, Marble may yet get a new trial.
At Tipp & Buley, we have over 55 years of combined experience litigating criminal and civil matters in Western Montana. We believe the rights of criminal defendants must be aggressively guarded, and we’ll fight for you. If you’ve been charged with a serious crime, call us today at 406-389-4215 or complete our Contact form online to set up an appointment.