Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Petitioner K.C. Myers challenged the trial court’s determination that his exclusion from the earned-time program for a disqualifying offense did not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Petitioner was accused of committing burglary on August 17, 2019, almost two months after the original earned-time bill, 2019, No. 56, §§ 1-9, was signed into law. He was arraigned in March 2020 and pled no contest on May 2020, receiving a two-to-five-year prison sentence. Petitioner was serving a suspended sentence for lewd and lascivious conduct with a child when he received the burglary sentence. Petitioner, like all others in prison meeting the standards set forth in 2019, No. 148 (Adj. Sess.), § 14, became eligible for earned time starting on January 1, 2021. The earned-time program was again amended by 2021, No. 12, § 2, which became effective on April 26, 2021. The central question in this appeal was whether the effective date of the earned-time program or the enactment date of the statute mandating its creation controlled for the purposes of an ex-post-facto analysis. Because the Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the program’s effective date controlled, and, therefore, petitioner’s disqualification from the program did not offend the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on ex-post- facto laws, judgment was affirmed. View "Myers v. Baker, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2018, City of Montpelier voters approved a proposed amendment to the city’s charter that would allow noncitizens to vote in its local elections. The Legislature authorized the amendment in 2021, overriding the Governor’s veto. Plaintiffs included two Montpelier residents who were United States citizens and registered to vote in Montpelier, eight Vermont voters who were United States citizens and resided in other localities in the state, the Vermont Republican Party, and the Republican National Committee. They filed a complaint in the civil division against the City and the City Clerk in his official capacity, seeking a declaratory judgment that Montpelier’s new noncitizen voting charter amendment violated Chapter II, § 42 of the Vermont Constitution, and an injunction to prevent defendants from registering noncitizens to vote in Montpelier. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the complaint alleged facts to establish standing at the pleadings stage for plaintiffs to bring their facial challenge to the statute. However, the Supreme Court concluded that the statute allowing noncitizens to vote in local Montpelier elections did not violate Chapter II, § 42 because that constitutional provision did not apply to local elections. The Court accordingly affirmed the trial court’s grant of the City’s motion to dismiss. View "Ferry, et al. v. City of Montpelier" on Justia Law

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Landowner Frances Nesti appealed two civil-division orders resolving multiple claims in favor of the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans). In 2006, VTrans rebuilt Route 7 in South Burlington and Shelburne. The new system directed stormwater downhill from the road in a westerly direction toward Lake Champlain. Nesti’s property abutted the lake, west of Route 7. Stormwater flowed over the depression from time to time before 2006. Nesti engaged in a series of conversations with VTrans and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) personnel regarding the issue beginning in 2009 or 2010. Nesti filed suit at the end of 2018, seeking damages and injunctive relief. She initially pleaded takings, trespass, and private-nuisance claims, and later added claims of ejectment and removal of lateral support. VTrans moved to dismiss all claims on the basis that each was barred by the six-year statute of limitations for civil actions, 12 V.S.A. § 511, and the doctrine of sovereign immunity. VTrans also argued the ejectment and lateral support causes of action failed to state a claim. Nesti countered that the fifteen-year statute of limitations for actions for recovery of land, 12 V.S.A. § 501, applied to each claim rather than § 511, and the continuing-tort doctrine caused her trespass and nuisance claims to continually accrue with each new runoff event, even if the claims were subject to § 511. The civil division dismissed Nesti’s takings, trespass and nuisance claims, concluding that the applicable statute of limitations was § 511, not § 501. However, the court permitted Nesti’s trespass and nuisance claims to proceed to summary judgment on the question of whether they were continuing torts, and denied the State’s motion to dismiss them under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. VTrans moved to dismiss the remaining claims, but the civil division denied the motion, but found VTrans was not equitably estopped from raising a statute-of-limitations defense. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded Nesti's claims were time-barred under the § 511, and affirmed the civil division's judgment. View "Nesti v. Agency of Transportation et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant Dean Stearns pled guilty in 2018 to five counts of voyeurism and two counts of promoting a recording of sexual conduct. He was sentenced in 2020 to an aggregate term of ten to fifteen years suspended, except five years to serve. Defendant appealed the denial of his motion for sentence reconsideration, arguing the trial court abused its discretion by: (1) failing to apply individualized sentencing factors; (2) not considering how changes to incarceration conditions during the pandemic adversely affected the ability to achieve sentencing goals; and (3) upholding a sentence that had been effectively increased due to pandemic-era restrictions. The State contended, among other things, that defendant’s motion for sentence reconsideration was properly denied because sentence reconsideration did not include review of post-incarceration matters and defendant sought relief based on post-incarceration circumstances. To this the Vermont Supreme Court agreed and affirmed primarily on that basis. View "Vermont v. Stearns" on Justia Law

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Defendants A.P. and Z.P. were charged by the Franklin County Vermont State’s Attorney’s Office with multiple serious criminal offenses in April 2020. The State’s Attorney’s Office discovered a conflict of interest, and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office (AGO) took over prosecuting the case. In December 2020, the AGO determined that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges and on December 30, 2020, dismissed all pending charges against defendants. In January 2021, defendants moved to seal the criminal cases under 13 V.S.A. § 7603(a)(1)(B). The AGO filed a notice on January 27, 2021, indicating that it did not object to the sealing requests. Consequently, on January 28, 2021, the criminal division issued an order sealing the underlying criminal dockets. The orders indicated that they applied to “all court files and records, law enforcement records, fingerprints, and photographs applicable to the proceeding” and directed that “[a]ll agencies and officials in custody of such documents shall comply.” The issue in this appeal was whether the Vermont Journalism Trust (VJT) could access sealed records from a criminal division proceeding. The trial court denied VJT’s request for access to records that were previously sealed on the ground that access was not permitted by statute and the court lacked discretion to override the statutory provision. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that VJT lacked standing to appeal that order and dismissed the appeal. View "Vermont v. Z.P. & A.P. (Vermont Journalism Trust, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a family division’s order granting juvenile E.S.’s motion to suppress a statement given to law enforcement in this delinquency proceeding. In July 2021, the state’s attorney filed a delinquency petition alleging E.S. engaged in behavior designated as the crime of lewd or lascivious conduct with a child. E.S. subsequently moved to suppress statements he made during an interview with law enforcement, arguing that he was in custody during the interview and therefore should have been provided with Miranda warnings and the ability to consult with an independent interested adult. The State opposed the motion. The family division granted E.S.’s motion, concluding that he was in custody during the interview because a reasonable juvenile in his circumstances would not have felt free to terminate the interview and leave. The State argued on appeal of the suppression motion that the family court used the wrong standard to determine whether E.S. was in custody during the interview. E.S. argued 13 V.S.A. § 7403(c) did not provide a right for the State to appeal an order granting a motion to suppress in a juvenile delinquency proceeding. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with E.S. and dismissed this appeal. View "In re E.S., Juvenile" on Justia Law

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In a consolidated appeal, petitioner E.C. challenged two trial court orders denying his requests to expunge his criminal-history records. Petitioner’s criminal-history records included several felony and misdemeanor convictions, as well as several charges that were dismissed before trial. First,hearguedthathisdismissedchargesshouldbeexpungedunder 13 V.S.A. § 7603(e)(1)(B), which directs a court to expunge a record “related to the citation or arrest of a person . . . within 60 days after the final disposition of the case if . . . the charge is dismissed with prejudice,” unless a party objects in the interests of justice. Petitioner explained that the three-year statute of limitations had expired for each of his dismissed charges, and that the dismissals therefore were with prejudice by operation of the statute and thus were eligible for expungement. Second, he argued that his convictions for offenses committed when he was seventeen years old, including misdemeanor possession of marijuana, should be expunged under 13 V.S.A. § 7602(a)(1)(B), which permits a person to request expungement if they were “convicted of an offense for which the underlying conduct is no longer prohibited by law or designated as a criminal offense.” The Vermont Supreme Court concluded Petitioner’s petitions were properly denied under the governing law and therefore affirmed, but remanded for the Windham criminal division to expunge any of petitioner’s convictions eligible under 2019, No. 167 (Adj. Sess.), § 31. View "Vermont v. E.C." on Justia Law

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The State appealed a trial court order granting defendants Michael Sinquell-Gainey and David Vaz's motion to suppress evidence obtained by law enforcement after an automobile stop. The State argued a Newport police officer had reasonable suspicion to stop defendants because he observed a traffic violation and because the totality of the circumstances supported reasonable suspicion of impaired driving. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed that the stop was justified based on reasonable suspicion of impairment. The Court therefore reversed and remanded. View "Vermont v. Sinquell-Gainey, Vaz" on Justia Law

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Defendant Austin Burnett appealed the Vermont criminal division’s order revoking his probation. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the court’s determination that defendant violated probation conditions prohibiting him from possessing or using a device with access to the internet or having a social-media account and from possessing or using pornography. However, the Supreme Court reversed the court’s determination that defendant violated a condition governing where he could reside, and remanded for the court to reconsider its disposition without that violation. View "Vermont v. Burnett" on Justia Law

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Defendant Roy Kuhlmann appealed the denial of his pro se motion for a new trial filed during the pendency of his appeal of his sentence and final judgment. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not have jurisdiction to consider defendant’s motion and therefore affirmed. View "Vermont v. Kuhlmann" on Justia Law