Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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Defendant Jacob Rillo appealed his conviction for selling or dispensing a regulated drug (fentanyl) with death resulting, arguing that his guilty plea lacked a factual basis. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed and reverse defendant’s conviction and sentence for that count. The matter was remanded to the trial court for resentencing on the remaining counts. View "Vermont v. Rillo" on Justia Law

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Defendant Gregory Welch was convicted by jury of lewd and lascivious conduct. At trial, the State introduced evidence that defendant fled when police tried to arrest him, and the court instructed the jury on the use of flight evidence as suggesting consciousness of guilt. Defendant argued on appeal that the court erred in failing to instruct jurors that they could not return a guilty verdict based solely on the evidence of flight. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Welch" on Justia Law

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R.L. Vallee, Inc. appealed the superior court’s denial of its motion to intervene in a state condemnation action seeking property rights for a highway project. Vallee argued: (1) it had a right to intervene under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(1) because Vermont’s highway condemnation statute conferred an unconditional right to intervene; and (2) it had a right to intervene under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2) because it had an interest relating to property that was subject to the condemnation action and intervention was necessary to protect that interest. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court held that Vallee had an unconditional statutory right to intervene under Rule 24(a)(1), and accordingly, reversed. View "Agency of Transportation v. Timberlake Associates et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant Matthew Hinton appealed a superior court’s sentence following his guilty plea to escaping from furlough. Defendant argued that new legislation decriminalizing the conduct should have been applied retroactively to him. Separately, he argued the court abused its discretion when it ordered the sentence to run consecutively to two other sentences. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Hinton" on Justia Law

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Defendant Michael Harwood appealed after a trial court concluded he violated one of the conditions of his probation. In 2017, defendant was charged by information with one count of aggravated domestic assault, and two counts of disturbing the peace by phone. He ultimately pled guilty to first-degree aggravated domestic assault with a weapon for threatening to use a deadly weapon on his ex-girlfriend. Defendant received a sentence of eighteen months to six years, all suspended except for one year to serve. As part of the plea agreement, defendant was placed on probation under standard and special conditions and the two counts of disturbing the peace by phone were dismissed. About a week later, while defendant was in his jail cell, a corrections officer and a unit supervisor saw defendant squirting water out under his cell door. The corrections officer first spoke with defendant and warned him the facility would not tolerate this behavior. Defendant then became “verbally assaultive.” The unit supervisor reminded defendant that he could violate his probation if he continued to engage in this behavior. Defendant responded flippantly and loudly yelled several expletives at the supervisor. On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred because threatening behavior required some accompanying physical conduct. If verbal statements qualify as threatening behavior, defendant alternatively argued that he did not receive adequate notice that his verbal statements could result in a violation of probation. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded defendant's verbal statements to the corrections officer qualified as threatening behavior. The Court also concluded defendant was on sufficient notice that verbal statements could have qualified as threatening behavior. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that defendant violated a condition of his probation. View "Vermont v. Harwood" on Justia Law

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Defendant Christina Allcock appealed her convictions for aggravated assault on a police officer, simple assault on a police officer, and impeding a police officer. Law enforcement responded to an emergency call in March 2015 and discovered a man stabbed in defendant’s residence. Defendant, her boyfriend, her parents, and her adult son were present when the officers responded to the call. While the officers were investigating the scene, defendant and some of the others left the residence and went to sit in defendant’s father’s car, which was parked outside. At some point an officer approached the vehicle, where defendant, her boyfriend, and her son were sitting in the back seat of the car. The doors were unlocked. When the officer tried to persuade defendant’s son to get out of the car to speak with him, defendant resisted. The officer testified at trial that defendant wrapped her arms around her son to prevent his exit; yelled at the officer; “slapp[ed],” “claw[ed],” and “gouged” his hands; held a lighter, which was lit, against his hand; and punched him in the mouth. Another officer also testified that defendant held the lighter against the first officer’s hand and sleeve. A jury found defendant guilty on all counts. The trial court sentenced defendant to concurrent sentences of eighteen months to six years for the aggravated assault, twelve to twenty-four months for the simple assault, and eighteen months to three years for the impeding-officer offense. On appeal, defendant argued her conviction for aggravated assault on a police officer had to be reversed because the trial court erred in admitting Facebook messages that were not properly authenticated, and that the trial court should not have allowed the State to alter the elements of the impeding charge after the evidence was closed. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed the aggravated assault conviction, but affirmed the simple assault and impeding a police officer convictions. View "Vermont v. Allcock" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review in this interlocutory appeal centered on the available legal means for collaterally challenging a predicate conviction to an enhanced charge in light of two distinct lines of case law. Petitioner Joseph Benoit pled guilty to driving under the influence, third offense (DUI- 3), and subsequently challenged his underlying predicate convictions in a petition for post- conviction relief (PCR). The State sought summary judgment on the basis that by pleading guilty to DUI-3, petitioner waived his PCR challenges to any of the predicate convictions. The trial court denied summary judgment, concluding that Vermont case law required petitioner to raise his challenges in a post-sentencing PCR proceeding. The Supreme Court concluded defendant could raise collateral challenges to predicate convictions by preserving the challenge on the trial court record. The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of summary judgment on different grounds than the trial court, and remanded for the court to consider whether petitioner's waiver was knowing and voluntary. View "In re Joseph S. Benoit v. (State of Vermont, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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A.A., born in February 2003, was first adjudicated delinquent and placed at Woodside, a secure treatment facility for juveniles, in September 2016. He was placed back in his home in the continued custody of the Department for Children and Families (DCF) in December 2017. In 2018, A.A. was charged in the criminal division, with one count of assault and robbery, injury resulting, and one count of providing false information to a police officer. Shortly thereafter, a delinquency petition alleging larceny was filed against A.A. in the family division. While these cases proceeded, A.A. was administratively held at Woodside in connection with the earlier, unrelated delinquency case. In this appeal, the issue presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review centered on whether the statutory timeline for adjudicating the merits of A.A.'s delinquency petition while held in a secure treatment facility applied to the delinquency petition where there was no secured-facility placement order because A.A. had already been placed at a secure facility pursuant to a prior, separate delinquency petition. Because the Supreme Court concluded the statutory timeline set forth in 33 V.S.A. 5291(b) did not apply in such situations, the Court rejected A.A.'s call for dismissal of the petition on appeal and vacation of the secure-facility placement order that had been issued under a different petition. The Court affirmed the family division’s order adjudicating A.A. delinquent for having committed assault and robbery. View "In re A.A." on Justia Law

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Defendant Shannon Huston was stopped by a law-enforcement officer in July 2019 and received notice that the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) intended to suspend her license to operate a motor vehicle. Prior to a hearing on the notice of suspension, defendant filed a motion to suppress and dismiss, arguing the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion that she was engaged in criminal activity because there was insufficient evidence to show that defendant was operating while under the influence of drugs. As a result, defendant argued the officer had no authority to ask her to exit her vehicle and any evidence gathered following this exit request should be suppressed and the case dismissed. This argument was successful: the trial court suppressed evidence following the stop. The State appealed. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court failed to make factual findings essential to resolving the case, reversed and remanded for the trial court to reconsider its conclusions. View "Vermont v. Huston" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Kirk Wool appeals the superior court’s dismissal of his petition for mandamus relief against the Office of Professional Regulation (OPR) for lack of standing and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Petitioner was an inmate in the custody of the Vermont Department of Corrections. In 2015, he filed a disciplinary complaint against a psychologist, alleging that the psychologist had falsified certain scores in a risk assessment and that these scores force him to “max out” his sentence and serve fourteen additional years of incarceration. In 2016, while his complaint was under investigation, petitioner wrote to OPR requesting copies of the records the psychologist filed to defend against the complaint. Petitioner soought the records to rebut the psychologist’s defense with further evidence in support of the complaint. OPR replied that it was precluded by statute from releasing the requested records to the public because the complaint was under investigation. Petitioner then filed a pro se petition for a writ of mandamus and for extraordinary relief in superior court, arguing that as the complainant in the disciplinary proceedings, he has a due process right to the records under the U.S. and Vermont Constitutions. finding that Petitioner lacked standing and failed to raise a colorable constitutional claim, the superior court granted OPR's motions to dismiss. Although the Vermont Supreme Court held that petitioner had standing, it affirmed the court’s dismissal for failure to state a claim. View "Wool v. Office of Professional Regulation" on Justia Law