DOJ: News Release

McGrath: Financial Responsibility Changes Once Sentence Pronounced

HELENA – In an opinion released Thursday, Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath said that the state Department of Corrections’ financial responsibility for an inmate begins at the oral pronouncement of sentence.

Yellowstone County Attorney Dennis Paxinos requested the opinion. The request was prompted by an unexpected change in the agreements made between the county and the Department of Corrections. DOC recently informed county governments that it would not accept financial responsibility for inmates until they were delivered to one of its facilities. Such an arrangement would have been costly for county officials, since the date of actual physical transfer often depended on when space in a DOC facility became available.

Citing a 1998 decision of the Montana Supreme Court, McGrath said the legally effective sentence begins when that sentence is orally pronounced from the bench. That sentencing is the “only common date by which the criminal justice system can definitely measure when … responsibility for an inmate shifts from the county to the state.”

The offender may, however, remain in a local facility at Corrections’ option, even once supervision is transferred.

“Upon imposition of sentence,” McGrath wrote, “the local or regional detention center simply serves as a place of temporary detention until Corrections can place an inmate.”

The opinion also held that, prior to sentencing, financial responsibility for an arrestee rests with the arresting agency.

An attorney general’s opinion carries the weight of law unless a court overturns it or the legislature modifies the laws involved.

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