Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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Petitioner Alexis Gabree appealed the superior court’s decision to dismiss her petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). She argued that, during the plea colloquy, she never personally admitted that a factual basis for the charges existed, in violation of Vermont Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(f). After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed, reversed and remanded. View "In re Alexis Gabree" on Justia Law

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Defendant Diane Stewart was convicted of embezzling from her former employer. She appealed the trial court’s restitution order that required her to pay the bank the amount that she had embezzled, arguing that the bank was not a direct victim of the crime and therefore was not entitled to restitution. This case presented the issue of whether a bank is entitled to restitution as a “direct victim” of a crime when it incurred financial harm by reimbursing an accountholder for funds it had previously drawn from the account to pay a check that turned out to be forged. The Vermont Supreme Court held restitution was appropriate in cases such as this one where defendant’s crime directly harms the bank that must reimburse a customer’s account for embezzled funds. View "Vermont v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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At issue in his post-conviction relief (PCR) appeal was whether petitioner Thomas Sharrow received ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The PCR court vacated petitioner’s conviction of attempted second-degree murder on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel; the PCR court concluded that petitioner’s trial counsel failed to object to jury instructions that did not require the State prove the absence of passion or provocation in order to convict for attempted second-degree murder and did not include attempted voluntary manslaughter as a lesser offense. On appeal, the State did not challenge the PCR court’s conclusion that counsel was ineffective in petitioner’s underlying criminal trial, but argued petitioner was not prejudiced by the ineffective assistance. Finding no reversible error in the PCR court’s conclusion, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Thomas S. Sharrow" on Justia Law

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The State charged defendant Christopher Sharrow with second-degree murder in July 2013. While defendant was incarcerated pretrial, his counsel requested a competency hearing. The court ordered an evaluation and the Department of Mental Health selected a neutral expert to conduct the evaluation. The neutral expert conducted a competency evaluation in early 2015, but defense counsel was not present when the doctor conducted the examination. Counsel moved for a reevaluation. Again, the court ordered an evaluation and the Department selected a second expert. The second expert requested access to the first expert’s report and later requested a neuropsychological consult. The Department declined to provide funding for a neuropsychological examination, and the expert, who maintained that such an examination was necessary to complete the competency evaluation, suggested that the court reassign the evaluation to another doctor. One year later, the court granted that request and the Department subsequently appointed another expert to conduct the competency evaluation. The third court-appointed expert concluded that “defendant is not mentally competent to stand trial for the alleged offense.” The parties received a copy of that report on May 23, 2016. In the meantime, defense counsel engaged its own expert to perform a competency evaluation, which was completed on April 24, 2015. Defendant did not attempt to introduce the results of its expert’s report. Nevertheless, after receiving the third expert’s report, the State retained its own expert, and at a status conference, requested that its expert be given access to defendant in order to conduct a fifth competency evaluation. Defendant objected to the State’s request, arguing that “[t]he [c]ourt has no legal authority to order [defendant] to submit to a psychiatric evaluation arranged by the State.” In a written order the court granted the State’s motion and ordered defendant to submit to a competency evaluation conducted by the State’s expert. In response, defendant filed this interlocutory appeal. The Vermont Supreme Court held the State may not compel such an evaluation, and therefore reversed. View "Vermont v. Sharrow" on Justia Law

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Defendant Keith Baird and two others were charged with burglary, kidnapping, and first-degree murder for their involvement with the 2010 death of seventy-eight-year-old Mary O’Hagan at her home in Sheffield, Vermont. The basis for defendant’s murder charge was that the murder occurred during the commission of a burglary in which defendant participated and therefore constituted felony murder. Defendant filed a Vermont Rule of Criminal Procedure Rule 12(d) motion to dismiss the first-degree murder charge, arguing that the State could not establish a prima facie case because it could not show that defendant killed the victim or that he had the necessary mental state for first-degree felony murder. A deposition of Richard Fletcher, one of the codefendants, provided most of the admissible evidence in support of the State’s opposition to the motion to dismiss; facts in the investigating police officer’s affidavit of which he had first-hand knowledge provided additional support for the State’s opposition. Following a hearing, the court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed, finding the evidence of wantonness was sufficient for the question of defendant’s mental state to survive a Rule 12(d) motion to dismiss. Because the State produced sufficient evidence that fairly and reasonably tended to show the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the Court reinstated the murder charge and remanded for further proceedings. View "Vermont v. Baird" on Justia Law

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In July 2009, petitioner Anthony Bridger was charged in three counties with committing numerous burglaries. Petitioner pled guilty in the Bennington and Windham County cases before the Bennington Criminal Division in September 2009. These cases were then transferred to the Rutland Criminal Division for purposes of joining the pending Rutland matter and for sentencing. In February 2010, petitioner pled guilty before the Rutland Criminal Division to sixteen counts of burglary in the Rutland docket pursuant to a plea agreement. The remaining Rutland charges, nine counts of grand larceny and eight counts of petit larceny, were dismissed. In addition to an oral Rule 11 colloquy, petitioner signed a written waiver of his rights; he also signed restitution orders. At the sentencing hearing, the State noted that petitioner had cooperated with police and provided them with a full and complete confession. The court sentenced petitioner to six-to-twenty-years on the Rutland charges, and eighteen-months-to-five-years on the transferred Bennington dockets, to be served concurrently with the Rutland counts. In August 2015, petitioner filed a PCR petition, challenging the sufficiency of the Rutland Criminal Division’s plea colloquy under Rule 11(f). Petitioner argued that he was entitled to summary judgment because he did not admit to any facts, and the court’s colloquy on this point was “unlawfully sparse.” The State opposed the motion and filed a cross-motion for summary judgment in its favor. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with petitioner, reversed and remanded. View "In re Anthony Bridger" on Justia Law

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In April 2016, the police stopped defendant Kimberly Love after a disturbance at a gas station. As a result of this stop, the police issued defendant a notice of intention to automatically suspend her driver’s license by May 5, 2016. The notice stated that defendant either committed a second or subsequent violation of 23 V.S.A. 1201 or refused to submit to a breath or blood test. Defendant promptly requested a hearing under 23 V.S.A. 1205, and the preliminary hearing was scheduled for May 2, 2016. At the preliminary hearing, defendant requested that the court stay the automatic suspension of her license so that defendant could drive to work and transport her daughter to school. A day later, the court denied defendant’s request on the record, stating that the court did not have the authority to stay the automatic suspension. A final hearing was scheduled for June 6, 2016. On May 23, 2016, twenty-one days after the preliminary hearing but before the final hearing date, defendant moved for dismissal of the civil suspension hearing because twenty-one days had passed since the preliminary hearing. According to defendant, this timeline violated 23 V.S.A. 1205(h)(1), which required the final hearing to be held within twenty-one days of the preliminary hearing. The State argued the controlling time frame under section 1205(h)(1) was forty-two days from the date of the alleged offense. Because the June 6, 2016 date was within this forty-two-day timeline, excluding weekends and holidays, the final hearing was properly within the time allotted by the statute. The question presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review was whether the statutory language requiring the final hearing to be held within twenty-one days of the preliminary hearing was mandatory for second or subsequent offenses and whether, as a result, defendant’s civil suspension should have been dismissed because her final hearing was scheduled more than twenty-one days after her preliminary hearing. The trial court concluded that the twenty-one-day requirement was not mandatory and upheld defendant’s civil suspension. The Supreme Court disagreed and reversed. View "Vermont v. Love" on Justia Law

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In December 2009, defendant Randell Blake was convicted of filing a false insurance claim in connection with a 2007 fire at his house. Subsequent to his criminal convictions, the trial court ordered defendant to pay restitution to his insurer, Safeco Insurance Company of America (Safeco). Defendant appealed the trial court’s restitution order, arguing the order should be vacated because a general release, signed by Safeco in a related civil case, relieved him of any duty to pay it restitution. He also argued the order should be vacated because the trial court failed to make findings regarding his ability to pay restitution. The Vermont Supreme Court found that restitution and civil damages originated within separate systems, were not substitutes for each other; a civil court’s award of damages to a plaintiff did not discharge the criminal court’s duty or authority to consider and order restitution. Therefore, a civil settlement or release cannot entirely preclude a criminal restitution order because: (1) the statutory obligation to impose restitution when necessary leaves no room for private parties to preclude a court from ordering it; (2) a release does not address the underlying purposes of restitution; and (3) the victim has no standing and is not a party in the restitution proceeding, and may seek a separate remedy in an action for civil damages. Here, defendant initiated a civil suit against Safeco for payment he claimed it owed him relating to the house fire and Safeco counterclaimed. The exchange of releases extinguished these competing civil claims. The release Safeco signed did not, however, preclude an order of restitution in the related criminal proceeding. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the trial court’s determination on this matter; but reversed because the trial court by not considering his ability to pay. View "Vermont v. Blake" on Justia Law

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After a jury convicted defendant Bryan Perrault of one count of possessing marijuana and two counts of possessing a depressant or stimulant, he appealed, arguing he was entitled to a new trial because he discovered, post-trial, that one of the jurors had been previously convicted of a federal felony. He also claimed that the evidence was insufficient to establish that he knowingly possessed a depressant or stimulant. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied defendant’s motion for a new trial and that the evidence was sufficient to convince the jury that the State proved the elements of 18 V.S.A. 4234(a)(1) beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Vermont v. Perrault" on Justia Law

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In December 2012, defendant Bryan Love was charged with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child, and he faced the possibility of significant jail time. By virtue of a plea agreement with the State, defendant instead pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of prohibited acts, with a “4 year deferred sentence.” If defendant fulfilled “the terms of probation and of the deferred sentence agreement,” the court would “strike the adjudication of guilt and discharge” him. If he violated “the terms of probation or of the deferred sentence agreement,” he would be sentenced. Two years after executing these agreements, defendant sought to reduce the length of his deferred-sentence term, although he labeled his request a motion to “shorten probation.” He argued that the extensive probation conditions greatly restricted his ability to find a job because they prohibited contact with children, out-of-state travel, and computer use. Defendant also argued that in one instance the presence of the convictions excluded him from consideration for a job. The State opposed defendant’s request, arguing that defendant had agreed to defer sentencing for four years, and because that period had not passed, he had not fulfilled the terms of his agreement. The trial court concluded that it had no authority to grant such relief. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed, and therefore affirmed the trial court’s decision. View "Vermont v. Love" on Justia Law