Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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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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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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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

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Defendant Lucas Dwight appealed the trial court’s restitution order requiring him to pay dental expenses resulting from defendant’s conviction for simple assault. Defendant raised two issues on appeal: (1) whether the court erred in awarding restitution for expenses that complainant’s father paid on complainant’s behalf; and (2) whether the ordered repayment schedule, which considered defendant’s earning capacity, was impermissibly punitive. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Dwight" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cases, the State of Vermont appealed the trial court’s interlocutory orders granting defendants’ motions in limine seeking to suppress evidence of their refusal to submit to blood tests to determine if they were operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs (DUI). The trial court granted the motions in limine based on its conclusion that in Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S. Ct. 2160 (2016), the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right, pursuant to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, to refuse to submit to a warrantless blood test. In the trial court’s view, that constitutional right superseded Vermont’s implied consent law and precluded the State from introducing evidence of defendants’ refusal at their criminal DUI trial. The State challenged the trial court’s interpretation of Birchfield, arguing the federal Supreme Court indicated evidence of a refusal to take a warrantless blood test in the context of a DUI arrest and prosecution could be admitted at trial as evidence of guilt. Defendants responded that the constitutional issue had been effectively mooted by a post-Birchfield amendment to Vermont’s implied consent law and that, in any event, the trial court correctly construed Birchfield and other related federal law to prohibit the admission of evidence of a refusal to consent to a warrantless blood test. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the amendment to the implied consent law did not moot the constitutional issue, and that the trial court erred in determining, following the Birchfield decision, the Fourth Amendment prohibited admitting in a criminal DUI proceeding evidence of a defendant’s refusal to submit to a warrantless blood test requested pursuant to Vermont’s implied consent law. Accordingly, the Vermont Court reversed the trial court’s decisions granting defendants’ motions in limine and remanded the cases for further proceedings. View "Vermont v. Rajda" on Justia Law

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Defendant Liana Roy was convicted of custodial interference for taking her four-year-old daughter, who was then in Department for Children and Families (DCF) custody, on a two-day trip out of the state without DCF’s permission. After the jury returned its verdict, the trial court granted defendant’s motion for a judgment of acquittal, concluding that, in the absence of a court order specifying defendant’s parent-child contact, defendant was not criminally liable. The central question presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review in this case was whether a parent may be convicted of custodial interference under 13 V.S.A. 2451 for interfering with the custody of the DCF in the absence of a court order specifying the schedule and limitations of the parent’s visitation. The Court held section 2451 did not require such an order and that the evidence of defendant’s knowing and egregious actions in derogation of DCF’s custodial rights supported her conviction. Accordingly, the Court reversed. View "Vermont v. Roy" on Justia Law

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Defendant Emily St. Peter appealed her conviction on five counts of cruelty to animals, arguing the trial court erred in declining to suppress evidence about five horses she voluntarily surrendered during a cruelty investigation. In particular, defendant contended that because the humane officer failed to have the horses timely examined and assessed by a licensed veterinarian within seventy-two hours of her voluntary surrender of them, as required by 13 V.S.A. 354(b)(1), the court should have excluded any evidence acquired by a humane officer, veterinarian, or other witness following that surrender. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded, based on reasoning in Vermont v. Sheperd, 170 A.3d 616 (2017), the trial court properly declined to grant defendant’s suppression motion, and accordingly affirmed. View "Vermont v. St. Peter" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were inmates in the custody of the Vermont Department of Corrections who claimed a statute and certain administrative policies enacted after their incarceration operated together to retroactively increase the length of their sentences, in violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded plaintiffs failed to demonstrate an ex post facto violation and therefore affirmed the trial court’s award of summary judgment to the Department in each case. View "Wool v. Pallito / Carter v. Menard" on Justia Law