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DefendantMitchell Bowen appeals his conviction for sexual assault following his guilty plea, arguing that during the plea colloquy the trial court failed to comply with Vermont Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(f) and did not establish a factual basis for the charge. The Vermont Supreme Court held that the standard for reviewing Rule 11(f) challenges in direct-appeal cases was the same as that used for challenges brought in post-conviction relief (PCR) proceedings. Under that standard, the Court concluded the colloquy in this case did not comply with the requirements of Rule 11(f), and reversed and remanded. View "Vermont v. Bowen" on Justia Law

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Defendant Ernest Phillips filed an interlocutory appeal of the trial court’s denial of his motion to accept a plea agreement after lengthy litigation in the criminal division concerning defendant’s alleged sexual contact with two minors between 2012 and 2014. In November 2012, the Vermont State Police investigated allegations that defendant had sexual contact with two female minors pursuant to a complaint received from a dance school where defendant worked as an instructor. The complaint alleged defendant had engaged in sexual contact with a seventeen-year-old student and a fifteen-year-old student. On appeal of the denial of his motion, defendant argued the trial court accepted his proposed plea agreement and therefore could not subsequently reject it. In addition, he argued the trial court’s reasons for rejecting the proposed plea agreement were legally invalid. The Vermont Supreme Court granted permission for the interlocutory appeal on the following questions: (1) may a defendant waive the right to a direct appeal as a condition of a plea agreement; (2) may a defendant enter a plea to a reduced criminal charge based upon a statute that did not exist at the time of the commission of the original offense; and (3) is the trial court authorized to reject a plea agreement after accepting it. The Court answered the first question in the affirmative and therefore did not reach the second question. The third question was moot because the Court held the trial court never accepted the plea agreement. Accordingly, the case was remanded back to the trial court to reconsider whether to accept or reject the plea agreement. View "Vermont v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Vermont Supreme Court in this case was whether a landlord and a social guest of a tenant may be held liable for injuries caused by the tenant’s dogs to a third person outside of the landlord’s property. The Supreme Court concluded plaintiffs failed to establish that either defendant owed a duty of care to the injured plaintiff in this case, and therefore affirmed. View "Gross v. Turner" on Justia Law

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Father Mar-Rea Terino appealed the family court’s denial of his request to include a mechanism in his divorce decree for revisiting parent-child contact for his two-year-old child as the child got older, particularly as the child reached school age. Father also argued the family court erred in failing to address various proposals in his parenting plan. The Vermont Supreme Court found trial court may anticipate that a parent-child contact schedule, which was developed specifically to meet present needs that the child will predictably outgrow, may be ill suited to the child’s best interests at an identified future time. In such cases, the trial court cannot prejudge the child’s best interests at that future time. The court may, however, establish the expectation that the parties will revisit the schedule, through their own negotiation or mediation if necessary, to ensure that it meets the child’s bests interests in that predictable next stage of a child’s life. The parties’ failure to reach an agreement at that time may be an unanticipated change of circumstances. Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded courts have the discretion to include such a provision, but should do so sparingly and with an articulated rationale. On remand, the trial court was not bound to exercise its discretion to include a provision of the sort described by the father in his appeal. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in failing to specifically address the various proposals in father’s proposed parenting plan. Finally, although the trial court had the discretion to incorporate provisions regarding dispute resolution between mother and father, it was not required to do so. If, on remand, the trial court elected to address the matter, it may do so, but the Supreme Court concluded its silence on this question did not amount to an abuse of discretion. View "Terino v. Bleeks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Plaintiff Wayne Clark appealed the grant of summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds to defendant Richard DiStefano in connection with Clark’s claim to collect on a promissory note. Clark argued the court erroneously applied a six-year statute of limitations for demand notes found in the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), 9A V.S.A. § 3-118(b), rather than the fourteen-year statute of limitations for witnessed promissory notes, located in 12 V.S.A. 508. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Clark v. DiStefano" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure

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In 2015, plaintiff Stonewall of Woodstock Corporation (Stonewall) entered into negotiations to buy commercial property located in Woodstock from defendant Oliver Block, LLC (Oliver Block). A written contract of sale was signed by Stonewall, but not by Oliver Block, which instead sold the land to defendant Stardust 11TS, LLC (Stardust). Stonewall sued, claiming that there was a valid contract and seeking specific performance. The trial court granted summary judgment for Oliver Block, on the basis that any contract with Stonewall was unenforceable under the Statute of Frauds because it had not been signed by Oliver Block. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Stonewall of Woodstock Corp. v. Stardust 11TS, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts

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Defendant Amanda Stuart appealed her probation revocation arising from two probation violations. In May 2016, defendant pled guilty to negligent operation of a vehicle and reckless endangerment. The plea agreement called for concurrent one-to-twelve-month sentences, suspended with probation, to run consecutively to a sentence defendant was already serving for a past infraction. This left defendant on a “dual status” - on furlough in connection with a previous sentence and on probation for her new charges. Defendant’s probation conditions in connection with the May 2016 conviction included conditions requiring that she not buy, have, or use any regulated drugs unless prescribed by a doctor, complete the CRASH program, complete substance abuse counseling, and actively participate in and complete the reparative probation program. Contrary to the parties’ expectations at the time of the plea, defendant was not released after her May 2016 plea, but, rather, remained incarcerated until November 2016 because she could not meet a condition of her previous sentence that she secure housing. On April 17, 2017, defendant was reincarcerated for violating the furlough conditions in connection with her prior sentence after testing positive for benzodiazepines. On appeal, defendant argued, among other things, that the State presented insufficient admissible evidence to support the violations upon which the revocation was based. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed and reversed the trial court’s revocation of her probation. View "Vermont v. Stuart" on Justia Law

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The four petitioners in these consolidated appeals all pled guilty to criminal offenses between 2005 and 2013. After the appeal period had passed, they initiated collateral challenges to their convictions by filing post-conviction relief (PCR) petitions and argued that the plea colloquies in their criminal cases did not comply with Rule 11(f). The PCR courts denied their petitions and all petitioners appealed. While the appeals of those petitions were pending, the Vermont Supreme Court decided In re Bridger, 2017 VT 79, holding that Rule 11(f) required a plea colloquy to include the defendant’s personal admission of the facts underlying the offense, that oral or written stipulations cannot satisfy the requirement, and that substantial compliance does not apply in determining whether the colloquy was satisfactory. Petitioners sought to apply the Bridger decision to their cases. The Supreme Court concluded Bridger announced a new criminal procedural rule and that the new rule did not apply to cases where direct review was concluded at the time Bridger was decided. Thus, in those cases, pending or future collateral proceedings must be evaluated under pre-Bridger standards. Under the then- existing standard, the Court affirmed the decisions in In re Barber, In re Smith, and In re Burke, and reversed and remanded the decision in In re Rousseau. View "In re Kenneth Barber, Jr., Theodore C. Smith, Jr., Danielle M. Rousseau, John Burke" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Michele Boulet appealed the trial court’s decision to dismiss her petition for modification of the guardianship of C.H. In 2017, petitioner petitioned for modification of the guardianship of C.H., a developmentally disabled adult who has had a guardian since 2009. C.H.’s first guardian, a member of her immediate family, was removed in 2015 after being substantiated for financial exploitation of C.H. The Commissioner of the Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living (DAIL) was subsequently appointed as C.H.’s guardian. Petitioner was a friend of C.H.’s family. Shortly after petitioner filed her petition for modification of guardianship, C.H. moved to dismiss through counsel to dismiss on grounds that petitioner did not have standing to petition the court for modification of C.H.’s guardianship. In October 2017, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss, deciding, in accordance with C.H.’s argument, that petitioner lacked standing to petition for modification of the guardianship. The trial court did not hold an evidentiary hearing on either the petition for modification or the motion to dismiss. Petitioner raised several arguments in favor of reinstating her petition; as one of her arguments resolved this appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court addressed it alone. The Supreme Court held that the trial court’s interpretation of the statute defining who has standing to petition for a modification of guardianship was inconsistent with the plain language and purpose of Vermont’s guardianship provisions. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Guardianship of C.H." on Justia Law

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In 2016, eighteen-year-old defendant Randy Hughs had sexual intercourse with a fourteen-year-old minor, C.H., with whom he had been texting for the previous month and a half. The next day, defendant arranged to have a friend bring a “morning after” pill to C.H. When C.H.’s mother learned of the incident, she brought C.H. to the police station to file a complaint. This lead to Hughs' eventual conviction of sexual assault of a minor, for which he was sentenced to serve two and a half to five years. He contended the trial court erred by: (1) considering his decision to exercise his right to a trial in determining his sentence; (2) disregarding evidence that treatment in the community would be appropriate; and (3) failing to consider defendant’s youth as a mitigating factor. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Hughs" on Justia Law