Greg Gianforte

In this file photo, Congressman Greg Gianforte waits for his hearing to begin in Gallatin County Justice Court on a misdemeanor assault charge on June 12, 2017.

Attorneys for Greg Gianforte filed a motion Friday seeking to prevent the Congressman-elect from having to have his mug shot and fingerprints taken at the Gallatin County jail.

Defense attorneys Bill Mercer of Billings and Todd Whipple of Bozeman argued that Montana law does not provide courts the authority to require a defendant like Gianforte, who was charged and convicted of a misdemeanor but not arrested on the offense, to be fingerprinted or photographed.

On Monday, Gianforte, 56, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for attacking Guardian newspaper reporter Ben Jacobs on May 24, the eve of the special election in Montana.

The incident happened at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters. The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office briefly questioned Gianforte at the scene before he left. He refused a follow-up interview with detectives.

Later that night, the sheriff’s office charged the then-candidate with misdemeanor assault.

At Monday’s hearing, Gallatin County Justice Court Judge Rick West gave Gianforte a six-month deferred sentence and ordered that he complete 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management and pay $385 in fines and fees.

West also ordered Gianforte to report to the Gallatin County jail to give booking information, including fingerprints and a mug shot. The defense objected.

In their formal motion filed Friday afternoon, Gianforte’s defense argues that the Montana Legislature has a “comprehensive statutory scheme” addressing the collection of photographs and fingerprints by the Montana Department of Corrections and the Montana Department of Justice. However, they say, “this statue provides a very limited basis for courts to do so.”

State law doesn’t give Justice Court judges discretion to order fingerprints or photographs of defendants, defense attorneys argue.

Montana law does allow a judge to order a photograph and fingerprints of defendants charged with felonies, or defendants who have been arrested for most misdemeanor offenses. But neither of which were the case for Gianforte, the defense argued.

The statute also says that an agency shall photograph and fingerprint a person who has been summoned to appear to answer an information or indictment. But Gianforte was not charged by an indictment or an information, but simply a complaint, the defense said.

“Therefore, Mr. Gianforte’s prosecution does not fall within the narrow group of prosecutions for which courts have the authority to order fingerprinting and photographing,” the motion read.

Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert has until June 30 to file his written response. He told the Chronicle this week that, while he will wait to see what the defense’s motion has to say, “if it’s in (West’s) authority, I will defend his authority” to order Gianforte be photographed and fingerprinted.

Separate from the criminal case, to settle any civil claims arising from the assault, Gianforte issued Jacobs a written apology and donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent nonprofit that promotes press freedom and protects the rights of journalists worldwide.

Whitney Bermes can be reached at wbermes@dailychronicle.com or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.

Locations

Whitney Bermes is the city editor and covers cops and courts for the Chronicle.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.