Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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In 2015, defendant Norman McAllister was charged with one count of sexual assault and two counts of procuring a person for the purposes of prostitution, based on allegations that defendant entered into a sex-for-rent arrangement with S.L., the complaining witness, and arranged for a third person to have sex with S.L. in exchange for payment of her electric bill. After a jury trial, defendant was convicted of one count of procuring a person for the purposes of prostitution - the sex-for-electric bill arrangement - and acquitted of the other two charges. Defendant appealed that conviction. The Vermont Supreme Court found the trial court erred in: (1) admitting inadmissible evidence of prior bad acts involving defendant’s uncharged conduct with a deceased third party; and (2) instructing the jury, mid-deliberations, to disregard unstricken and admitted testimony. Accordingly, the conviction was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "Vermont v. McAllister" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Anthony Bridger was denied habeas relief. On appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, he sought credit for time served prior to his arraignment on burglary charges. The State cross-appealed, requesting the Supreme Court reverse the trial court's decision granting petitioner one day of credit. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's grant of one day of credit, and otherwise affirmed the trial court's decision. View "Bridger v. Systo" on Justia Law

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Defendant Doug Finkle, Sr. appeals the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress and dismiss. He was convicted on drug possession charges. He argued the police affidavit submitted in support of a request for a search warrant, which relied upon information provided by a confidential informant (CI), did not establish the requisite probable cause to issue the warrant and search his residence. He also argued his assertion of factual errors and omissions in the affidavit compelled the court to hold a hearing before denying the motion. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Finkle" on Justia Law

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Defendant Donald Francis appealed his conviction of driving under the influence (DUI), arguing that the trial court impermissibly burdened the exercise of his Fourth Amendment rights when it allowed evidence of his refusal to submit to a warrantless blood draw and then instructed the jury that it was permitted but not required to draw an inference from that evidence. In addition, he argued this evidence should not have been admitted because it was not relevant and was unduly prejudicial. Based on its decision in Vermont v. Rajda, 2018 VT 72, the Vermont Supreme Court rejected defendant’s constitutional argument, and declined to address his unpreserved relevance and prejudice arguments. Accordingly, the Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Francis" on Justia Law

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Defendant Christopher Sullivan asked the Vermont Supreme Court to vacate his sentence and remand for resentencing with a different judge. This was defendant’s second appeal following convictions for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor (DUI) with death resulting and for leaving the scene of a fatal accident. The trial judge sentenced defendant to two concurrent four- to ten-year terms. Defendant appealed, and the Supreme Court affirmed the convictions, but remanded for resentencing. The Supreme Court held the trial court had “abused its discretion by not continuing the sentencing hearing to allow defendant to present the testimony of his expert witness.” On remand, the same trial judge held a resentencing hearing, and after considering evidence from the first sentencing hearing and additional evidence, the trial judge reimposed two concurrent sentences of four to ten years, with credit for time served. Defendant contended the trial court did not have discretion to impose that sentence, arguing (1) the court did not have discretion to impose a minimum sentence above the statutory mandatory minimum absent a showing of aggravating factors; (2) to the extent the court’s findings support aggravating factors, those findings are incorrect and insufficient to support the sentence; and (3) the court abused its discretion in dismissing defendant’s mitigating evidence. Further, defendant argued the trial judge’s sentencing decision and process were driven by an impermissible personal animus against defendant. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the sentence. View "Vermont v. Sullivan" on Justia Law

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Defendant Victor Pixley was charged with unlawful trespass after he was found in an unoccupied farmhouse. Defendant testified that he was homeless, and he and his friend entered the property looking for a place to sleep. He stated that he entered the property at night and did not see any signs noticing against trespass. Defendant stated that he does not read so he would not have understood the signs in any event. In closing arguments, defendant admitted to entering the land and going into the farmhouse, but he argued that he was not provided with meaningful notice against trespass. Defendant appealed his eventual conviction, arguing the trial court's instruction to the jury on the notice element of the trespass charge amounted to plain error. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Pixley" on Justia Law

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In October 2015, the State charged defendant Michael Tobin with aggravated sexual assault based on allegations that defendant had sexually abused his biological son while the child was under the age of thirteen. After a jury trial in December 2016, the jury found defendant guilty. Defendant, on his own and through counsel, made several arguments on appeal. The Vermont Supreme Court understood those arguments as: (1) there was insufficient evidence that the victim was under thirteen years old because the State provided no evidence of the victim’s date of birth; (2) defendant was not properly informed of the charge; (3) there was a Brady violation because the State withheld recordings of witnesses’ statements; (4) defendant’s counsel provided ineffective assistance; (5) the State violated 3 V.S.A. 129a; (6) the case was outside the statute of limitations; (7) his conviction violated the Double Jeopardy Clause and was untimely filed; and (8) the trial court committed plain error in correcting defendant’s sentence when he was not present. The Supreme Court found no reversible errors and affirmed defendant's convictions. View "Vermont v. Tobin" on Justia Law

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Defendant Christian Noll appealed his conviction for stalking, arguing that: (1) the criminal stalking statute, as it existed when he was charged, was facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; (2) application of the statute to his case was unconstitutional; (3) the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to convict him of stalking; (4) the jury instruction allowed the jury to convict based on time-barred acts; and (5) the jury instruction failed to adequately describe the parameters of the true-threat doctrine under the First Amendment. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the criminal stalking statute at the time defendant was charged was facially valid because it included within the definition of stalking only constitutionally unprotected threatening speech. The statute was appropriately applied to defendant because, considering the evidence overall, a jury could conclude that the expression, which formed part of the stalking charge, was constitutionally unprotected threatening speech. However, the Court concluded the jury instruction allowed the jury to convict defendant based solely on acts that occurred outside of the applicable statute of limitations. On this basis, the Court reversed and remanded for a new trial. View "Vermont v. Noll" on Justia Law

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In April 2011, having been charged with three felonies and six misdemeanors, petitioner Michael Carpenter pled guilty to one felony: violation of an abuse-prevention order (VAPO), and five misdemeanors as part of a plea agreement. The felony VAPO charge was based on a telephone call petitioner made to his ex-girlfriend in violation of an emergency, ex parte RFA order that, among other things, prohibited petitioner from contacting her. On direct appeal of the sentence, the Vermont Supreme Court rejected petitioner's plain-error argument that the Habitual Offender Act did not authorize enhancing a minimum sentence beyond the underlying offense's statutory minimum. Meanwhile, while his appeal was pending, petitioner filed his first PCR petition, which the PCR court stayed pending resolution of the appeal. After the Supreme Court upheld his sentence on appeal, petitioner filed another PCR that was consolidated with the first. Petitioner sought the same relief on the same grounds in both petitions. Petitioner represented himself at the merits hearing because the Defender General had determined that his claims lacked merit, and the PCR court allowed assigned counsel to withdraw. The first PCR court rejected petitioner's various arguments and denied his petition. Petitioner then filed a second PCR petition which was ultimately dismissed as successive. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings, finding petitioner raised a new argument: that the no-contact provision in the ex parte, temporary RFA, which underlay petitioner’s felony VAPO conviction, was invalid, rendering his indictment for violating that order defective. The central question in this appeal was whether the collateral bar rule precluded a challenge to a facially invalid, emergency, ex parte, relief-from-abuse (RFA) order in the context of a prosecution for violation of that order. Arguing that the State did not establish an abuse of the writ, petitioner appealed the dismissal of his second petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). Because the Supreme Court concluded the collateral bar rule applied, it affirmed. View "In re Michael L. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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Defendant Roy Patten was convicted by jury of aggravated sexual assault. In 2013, complainant and her boyfriend moved to Vermont with defendant and defendant’s girlfriend. At first, the two couples lived next to each other in separate trailers, and later they moved into a house with separate apartments. A shared laundry area connected the apartments. In April 2014, defendant’s girlfriend ended their relationship and moved out. In August 2014, complainant called her sister and said she wanted to leave Vermont and that defendant had been hurting her. Complainant’s family came to Vermont to pick her up, and complainant told them that defendant had repeatedly sexually assaulted her. Complainant and her sister then reported the assault to the police. In September 2014, the police arrested defendant and charged him with aggravated sexual assault. On appeal, defendant argues that the court erred (1) in admitting testimony that defendant told complainant he was a sex offender immediately before the first sexual contact in April 2014 and (2) in excluding testimony regarding a masturbation incident in November 2013. He also argues the court erred in finding the masturbation incident was isolated and not part of an ongoing course of conduct. Defendant claims the errors were not harmless and requests that his conviction be reversed. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed defendant's conviction. View "Vermont v. Patten" on Justia Law