Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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Defendant Darryl Galloway appealed a trial court’s conclusion that he violated a condition of probation when he failed to complete a sex-offender treatment program while incarcerated. He argued that the Department of Corrections (DOC) impermissibly modified the condition in requiring him to complete an in-house program. In January 2009, defendant pled guilty to four counts of lewd and lascivious conduct - charges stemming from incidents in which defendant exposed his genitals to clothing store clerks in 2006. He received an aggregate sentence of four to twenty years suspended, except four years to serve. At the change-of-plea hearing, the court imposed several conditions of probation and placed defendant on probation. Relevant here, condition 31 mandated completion of the in-house program. In March 2010, DOC filed a violation-of-probation (VOP) complaint against defendant for violating condition 31, which defendant conceded. The court revoked probation on counts one and two and continued probation under the original conditions in counts three and four. In January 2019, DOC released defendant after he served the ten-year sentence on counts one and two. DOC put him on a bus bound for Seattle before realizing he was still on probation on counts three and four. DOC then retrieved defendant, placed him back in custody, and filed a second VOP complaint for violating condition 31 on counts three and four. DOC alleged that defendant refused to participate in VTPSA during his ten years of incarceration. In March 2019, the trial court held another VOP hearing. Noting a lack of evidence to prove that defendant was waiting to complete sex-offender treatment in the community, and his willingness to leave for Seattle without completing the treatment, the court found that defendant did not intend to complete sex-offender treatment. The court then found that defendant had been on probation since his guilty plea in 2009 and that given his ten-year failure to complete the treatment, he did not complete the programming within a reasonable amount of time. The court found defendant in violation of probation, revoked probation on counts three and four, and imposed the underlying two-to-ten-year sentence on those counts. The Vermont Supreme Court determined defendant did not have the opportunity to participate in a treatment program of his choosing in the community with respect to the remaining counts, so it could not find defendant actively refused to participate or that his conduct evinced an intent not to comply with condition 31. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Vermont v. Galloway" on Justia Law

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Defendant Henry Clinton-Aimable appealed his conviction of knowing and unlawful possession of more than one ounce of cocaine. Defendant was charged with possession of cocaine following a traffic stop. On appeal, he argued that the court erred in denying his motion to suppress. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the seizure of defendant’s car was not supported by probable cause and that therefore the evidence seized from defendant’s car was not admissible. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and defendant's conviction was vacated. View "Vermont v. Clinton-Aimable" on Justia Law

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Defendant Eric Nagel appeals from the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress and dismiss. A deputy sheriff driving along Route 2 recognized the vehicle in front of him from previous law enforcement encounters. He ran a registration check on the vehicle and learned the car was registered to Courtney Nagel. The officer knew from prior law enforcement experience that Courtney Nagel was married to defendant and that defendant’s license was criminally suspended. He also was aware that defendant had been known to visit residences suspected of drug dealing. When the deputy initiated a traffic stop of defendant's car, a subsequent search resulted in the deputy finding drugs and drug-related paraphernalia in the vehicle. Defendant argued in support of his suppression motion that police officers violated Article 11 of the Vermont Constitution by expanding the scope of a valid traffic stop into a drug investigation without reasonable suspicion of drug-related criminal activity. To this, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed and reversed. View "Vermont v. Nagel" on Justia Law

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Defendant Austin Burnett appealed a trial court’s decision that he violated a condition of his probation. Defendant’s relevant underlying convictions were for sexual assault of a victim under the age of sixteen and sexual assault, no consent. The court sentenced him to concurrent sentences of four to six years, suspended except for thirty-eight months, and five years, deferred, respectively. The court apparently generated one probation order in each docket, and the orders were filed separately in the court’s corresponding files. Both orders imposed eight standard conditions on defendant. Neither was signed by defendant. One of those conditions provided, “You shall participate fully in the Vermont Treatment Program for Sexual Abusers [VTPSA] during the course of your unsuspended sentence. Failure to complete said program while incarcerated may result in a violation of your probation.” This appeal arose in the context of the latter probation condition; the State filed substantially identical complaints for violation of probation in both dockets. The court noted that the VOP complaint filed by the State also listed “other non-compliant behavior,” and asked whether the defendant was planning to admit to any other behavior. The State said that no other admission was required, and defendant’s attorney stated that the other behavior was “older” and “I think the lock picking covers it.” Defendant argued the State both failed to prove the conditions of his probation and failed to prove that his conduct amounted to a violation. The Vermont Supreme Court concurred that the State failed to prove that defendant’s conduct amounted to a violation of the probation condition (VOP) and accordingly reversed on that ground. View "Vermont v. Burnett" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed after she was convicted for conspiracy to commit heroin trafficking. On appeal, she argued the trial court erred in: (1) denying her motion for judgment of acquittal because the State failed to prove the weight of the seized drugs; (2) admitting an out-of-court statement by a deceased co-conspirator; and (3) responding to a question raised by the jury regarding the elements of the conspiracy charge. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction for first-degree aggravated domestic assault. On appeal, he argued the trial court denied him the right to a fair trial by refusing to grant immunity to his witness or to compel the State to do so. In addition, he contended the trial court’s supplemental instruction improperly pressured the jury to reach a verdict. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Gates" on Justia Law

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Defendant Brandon Rolls was charged with aggravated sexual assault of a minor, was acquitted by a jury of that charge, but convicted of the lesser-included offense of sexual assault. Defense counsel objected to the State’s requested jury instruction of the lesser-included offense. The trial court overruled the objection, explaining that it had to provide a lesser-included-offense instruction upon either party’s request if the evidence supported the instruction, as it did in this case. Defense counsel did not object to the language the court proposed for the lesser-included-offense instruction. On appeal, defendant argued the trial court erred in its jury instructions, mandating reversal of his conviction and sentence. Finding no error in the trial court’s instruction, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Rolls" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Gregory FitzGerald appealed two superior court decisions entering judgment for the State on his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). On appeal, petitioner argued he was prejudiced by the cumulative effect of errors trial counsel made during his 1994 criminal trial. He also alleged the State knowingly presented false evidence at his trial. Finding no such errors, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief. View "In re Gregory FitzGerald" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Reco Jones appealed the civil division’s denial of his postconviction relief (PCR) petition alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel and that his guilty plea was involuntary. Due to his immigration status, federal deportation policies, and Department of Corrections (DOC) policies, the sentence petitioner agreed to, nominally twelve years to life, likely amounted to a life sentence without the possibility of parole with only a minimal chance of deportation. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the voluntariness of his plea was compromised by misinformation given to him. The Court therefore reversed and vacated petitioner’s conviction, and remanded to the civil division with instructions to refer the case to the criminal division for further proceedings. View "In re Jones" on Justia Law

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Defendant Donald Bouchard pled guilty to two sex offenses, and challenged several of the special sex-offender probation conditions imposed on him. The two offenses related to lewd and lascivious conduct, and one count of unlawful restraint in the second degree. The offending conduct involved his niece and nephew. At the sentencing hearing, the court imposed the agreed-upon sentence. The State presented no evidence in support of any of the contested probation conditions. The trial court expressed its concern about defendant’s ability to complete the sex-offender treatment program, and told defendant that “if you don’t complete the program and a violation of probation is filed and your probation is revoked, there is no room in the sentence that you’ve negotiated with your attorney for any other programming. It really is as close to a flat ten-year sentence as I’ve ever seen.” The court imposed various probation conditions, including the “sex [-] offender special conditions of probation” at issue on appeal. The Vermont Supreme Court remanded the two conditions limiting contact with minors for clarification as to the age restrictions and the rationale behind them. The Court upheld the conditions prohibiting defendant from accessing or loitering in places where children congregate, and requiring defendant to give his probation officer notice within 48 hours of a change in contact information. View "Vermont v. Bouchard" on Justia Law