Woman gets DOC sentenced for meth, marijuana

By: 
Marlo Pronovost
Thursday, September 19, 2019
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A soft-spoken Absarokee woman was sentenced to state custody last week on felony drug charges.

Sarah Jane McDonnell, 40, was taken into custody at the close of a sentencing hearing last week in 22nd Judicial District Court, having pleaded guilty to one felony count of criminal possession of dangerous drugs and misdemeanor counts of drug possession and drug paraphernalia possession.

Prior to sentencing, McDonnell thanked Judge Matt Wald for the opportunity to change her life.

Wald, who noted that McDonnell had struggled with addiction issues for a long time, imposed a 5-year sentence to the Montana Department of Corrections with two years suspended and a recommendation that she be screened for treatment.

Wald said the sentence provided for rehabilitation options and accountability for McDonnell, community safety and options for the court in the event of future problems.

THE CASE

On March 12 shortly before 8:30 p.m., Columbus Police Officer Jason Ferguson made traffic stop on McDonnell on North Ninth Street for a defective license plate lamp, according to court documents.

After an exchange of questions, McDonnell told the officer that her driver’s license might be suspended. When she was asked for registration and insurance papers, the officer noted that McDonnell grew more nervous and looked everywhere in the car except for the center console, according to court documents. Officer Ferguson asked McDonnell if the papers could be in the center console, to which McDonnell answered no, without checking it.

The officer was able to get McDonnell to open the center console, which she quickly opened, retrieved a black book and closed again, according to court documents.

The officer was able to see a blue can, which McDonnell admitted to being a beer. She retrieved the can of beer, gave it to the officer and “apologized several times” while providing registration papers to him, according to court documents. She did not have insurance. A check on McDonnell’s background revealed three prior drug convictions, according to court documents.

Officer Ferguson issued her citations for driving with a suspended license, having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle and failing to carry proof of insurance. Officer Ferguson then told McDonnell she was free to leave. He also said she had been “evasive” on opening the center console and asked if there was anything illegal in it, to which McDonnell said no. The officer asked if she would allow him to search the vehicle.

“The defendant looked away and asked if he meant the console. The defendant again appeared nervous and was avoiding eye contact,” Stillwater County Attorney Nancy Rohde wrote in court documents. “The Defendant first answered ‘no’ then a second later said ‘yeah?”

When asked if she had ever been in trouble for drug use, she said “no, never,” according to court documents. When told that the officer had already run her criminal history, McDonnell said that she had been accused of drug crimes in the past, but not convicted. When the officer told her convictions were found on her record, McDonnell said she was not sure, according to court documents.

The vehicle was seized and a K9 indicated the presence of drugs. A warrant was then obtained and found in the vehicle were .2 grams of marijuana, a marijuana pipe, a plastic bag of marijuana, book of rolling papers, a methamphetamine pipe with residue inside of it, a bag containing suspected methamphetamine shards weighing .5 grams and other paraphernalia, according to court documents.

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