A Missoula man originally accused of raping a woman received a mostly suspended jail sentence Tuesday after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor.
When he was first arrested in 2015, Matthew Aaron Smith faced a felony county of sexual intercourse without consent — Montana's law for rape. Just before his trial was set to begin in November, Smith and prosecutors agreed to amend his charge to a misdemeanor of sexual assault in exchange for a no contest plea.
On Tuesday, District Court Judge Karen Townsend imposed a six-month jail sentence, suspending all of that time except for the 39 days Smith had already served after his initial arrest. Smith will be on misdemeanor supervision for the remaining suspended portion of his sentence.
According to court documents, Smith went to his ex-girlfriend's home in downtown Missoula in August 2015 after she broke up with him. The woman told investigators Smith sexually assaulted her.
In a subsequent interview with police, Smith admitted to the assault, a court affidavit said.
On Tuesday, Deputy County Attorney Brian Lowney requested a six-month jail sentence with four of those months suspended, meaning that with the time Smith had already served after his arrest he would still have needed to spend three weeks in jail. Lowney said the six-month jail sentence is the maximum that can be imposed under the law, which in his opinion isn't high enough.
"This is a case that warrants a penalty," Lowney said.
Lowney said Tuesday that charge was changed to a misdemeanor due to the potential difficulty in proving the evidence of the case lined up with the definition of “without consent” in the felony statute that was in place at the time. That definition was later updated during the 2017 session of the Montana Legislature.
Smith's attorney argued for a deferred sentence, citing his client's lack of criminal history and his wish to finish his education at the University of Montana without having a conviction on his record.
"My truest intent is just to progressively move forward in a positive way," Smith said.