Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

by
Petitioner Edwin Towne, Jr. appealed the dismissal of his tenth and eleventh petitions for post-conviction relief (PCR). In 1989, petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder. In his ninth petition, petitioner argued the 1986 traffic stop that precipitated his arrest for murder, he had ineffective assistance of counsel during both his trial and direct appeal. In the tenth and eleventh petitions, petitioner raised arguments similar to those previously raised in petitions one through nine. In March 2013, the PCR court granted the State’s motion to dismiss. With respect to petitioner’s claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, the court concluded on the basis of the reasoning in Martinez v. Ryan, 556 U.S. 1 (2012) and Maples v. Thomas, 565 U.S. 266 (2012), that ineffectiveness of petitioner’s lawyer in his first PCR proceeding could overcome the procedural bars of successiveness and abuse of the writ to enable the court to consider the merits of petitioner’s PCR claims on the basis of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. However, the court concluded that petitioner had failed to establish that the first PCR court had erred in determining that his ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim was without merit. In September 2015, the court dismissed the eleventh petition on the basis that his claims had either already been raised and addressed on the merits in previous petitions, or they could have been raised in previous petitions. Furthermore, the court noted that “there is nothing to suggest that if trial counsel had done what [petitioner] now thinks he should have done, the result at his trial or sentencing would have been different.” The Vermont Supreme Court found that petitioner’s claims that were not addressed on the merits in earlier petitions were an abuse of the writ under any standard of review. “For that reason, our resolution of this case does not turn on whether we review the trial court’s ruling as to newly raised claims for abuse of discretion or without deference. We accordingly decline to decide at this juncture which standard governs our review of the trial court’s dismissal of claims raised in a second or subsequent PCR petition on account of abuse of the writ.” Because his various claims are either successive, an abuse of the writ, or outside the scope of the PCR statute, the Supreme Court affirmed their dismissal. View "In re Edwin A. Towne, Jr." on Justia Law

by
Petitioner Edwin Towne, Jr. appealed the dismissal of his tenth and eleventh petitions for post-conviction relief (PCR). In 1989, petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder. In his ninth petition, petitioner argued the 1986 traffic stop that precipitated his arrest for murder, he had ineffective assistance of counsel during both his trial and direct appeal. In the tenth and eleventh petitions, petitioner raised arguments similar to those previously raised in petitions one through nine. In March 2013, the PCR court granted the State’s motion to dismiss. With respect to petitioner’s claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, the court concluded on the basis of the reasoning in Martinez v. Ryan, 556 U.S. 1 (2012) and Maples v. Thomas, 565 U.S. 266 (2012), that ineffectiveness of petitioner’s lawyer in his first PCR proceeding could overcome the procedural bars of successiveness and abuse of the writ to enable the court to consider the merits of petitioner’s PCR claims on the basis of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. However, the court concluded that petitioner had failed to establish that the first PCR court had erred in determining that his ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim was without merit. In September 2015, the court dismissed the eleventh petition on the basis that his claims had either already been raised and addressed on the merits in previous petitions, or they could have been raised in previous petitions. Furthermore, the court noted that “there is nothing to suggest that if trial counsel had done what [petitioner] now thinks he should have done, the result at his trial or sentencing would have been different.” The Vermont Supreme Court found that petitioner’s claims that were not addressed on the merits in earlier petitions were an abuse of the writ under any standard of review. “For that reason, our resolution of this case does not turn on whether we review the trial court’s ruling as to newly raised claims for abuse of discretion or without deference. We accordingly decline to decide at this juncture which standard governs our review of the trial court’s dismissal of claims raised in a second or subsequent PCR petition on account of abuse of the writ.” Because his various claims are either successive, an abuse of the writ, or outside the scope of the PCR statute, the Supreme Court affirmed their dismissal. View "In re Edwin A. Towne, Jr." on Justia Law

by
Cheryl Brown and Matthew Denis were involved in a traffic accident, when Denis’s truck bumped into Brown’s car from behind. Denis claimed the accident happened when he inadvertently took his foot off the brake as he turned to roll the rear window down to provide fresh air to his dog, who was riding in the back seat. Denis’s truck, which was positioned behind Brown’s car, rolled forward five to six feet, striking her rear bumper. The collision took place in stop-and-go traffic. Denis, a sergeant with the Vermont State Police, estimated his speed at impact to be two miles per hour and did not believe there was any damage caused to Brown’s vehicle from the collision. Brown claimed the impact caused a scratch on her rear bumper. The truck Denis was driving did not have any markings indicating it was a police vehicle. Brown filed suit against the State of Vermont alleging it was responsible for injuries she sustained in the accident due to Denis’s negligence. Brown also raised constitutional claims, alleging: (1) due process and equality of treatment violations under the Vermont Constitution’s Common Benefits Clause, and (2) an equal protection, and possibly a due process, claim under the United States Constitution. Brown did not name Denis as a defendant in her suit. Brown’s constitutional claims were based on her assertion that Denis received favorable treatment because he was not prosecuted for causing the accident or leaving the scene without providing identifying information. Before trial, the court dismissed the due process and equal protection claims under the United States Constitution on the basis that Brown had only sued the State, and not Denis personally, and that the State was not a “person” for claims arising under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The court further ruled that Brown lacked standing to assert any claim based on the State’s failure to prosecute Denis. The court also dismissed the Common Benefits Clause claim because Brown lacked any cognizable interest in the prosecution or discipline of Denis. Lastly, the court held that, to the extent a due process claim had been raised, it was undisputed that Brown received the information required to be exchanged in the event of a car collision shortly after the accident, and her ability to file suit against the State as a result of the accident showed her due process rights were not impeded. On appeal, Brown alleged several errors in pre-trial and trial rulings, as well as in the failure to grant her a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Vermont" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Philip Tetreault appealed his convictions for heroin trafficking and conspiracy to sell or deliver a regulated drug. He argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence gathered from his vehicle during a traffic stop. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed Tetreault's convictions. View "Vermont v. Tetreault" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Justin Kuzawski appeals his conviction for aggravated domestic assault with a deadly weapon. He argues that there was insufficient evidence to find that he used a deadly weapon or to show that he intended to threaten the victim of his actions. While defendant was using a box cutter tool to work with boxes, six-year-old E.P. approached him and asked what he was doing. Defendant initially told her “[n]othing, none of your business.” E.P. persisted, and defendant then held the box cutter he was using next to E.P.’s stomach and told her that he would kill her in her sleep. He then laughed, and E.P. ran away. Defendant argued the box cutter involved here was not a deadly weapon. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, finding evidence in the record to support each of the trial court’s factual findings, and those findings in turn supported the court’s conclusion that defendant intended to threaten E.P. "There is no clear error here." View "Vermont v. Kuzawski" on Justia Law

by
Defendant James Carola appealed the denial of his motion to withdraw three pleas stemming from his alleged assault of his wife at their Burlington home. He argued: (1) the trial court did not allow him to withdraw his pleas even though he did not know that he would be sentenced the same day as his change-of-plea hearing and there was neither a presentence investigation nor a personal waiver of that investigation by defendant; and (2) he should have been allowed to withdraw his plea because the court erroneously participated in the plea agreement process. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Scarola" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Francis Lampman appealed his burglary conviction arising from his entering a partially constructed house to steal roofing materials. He argued the trial court erred in instructing the jury on the definition of “building or structure” for the purposes of the burglary statute, and that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he entered a “building or structure.” Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Lampman" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Tyler Heffernan was convicted by jury for simple assault and disorderly conduct after a late-night brawal in downtown Burlington. On appeal, he argued: (1) the court abused its discretion and denied him his rights to present a defense, to compulsory process, and to due process when it denied his motion to continue the trial despite the unavailability of a key witness due to her hospitalization; and (2) the court erred by not declaring a mistrial when a prospective juror who had previously worked with defendant as his supervisor made negative comments about defendant during jury selection. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed defendant’s convictions and remanded for a new trial on the basis that defendant was prejudiced by the inability to present testimony from the hospitalized witness. The Court did not reach defendant’s second issue regarding the mistrial. View "Vermont v. Heffernan" on Justia Law

by
In 2015, a jury found defendant Juan Villar guilty of operating a motor vehicle on a public highway while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. The trial court sentenced defendant to six months to three years, all suspended except for fifteen days to serve, and placed him on probation. Defendant appealed; his sentence was not stayed pending appeal. "The appeals process was slow." The issue on appeal this case addressed was whether the government could dismiss an indictment or information pursuant to Vermont Rule of Criminal Procedure 48(a) while the case was pending on appeal. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that it may. Accordingly, the Court held the trial court erred in denying the state’s attorney’s notice of dismissal. Pursuant to Rule 48(a), the Court vacated the conviction and dismiss the underlying charges. View "Vermont v. Villar" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Matthew Webster was convicted by jury of second-degree murder, reckless endangerment, and careless and negligent operation. Defendant challenged the denial of his motion to suppress statements he gave to the police following his arrest, an evidentiary ruling at trial permitting certain expert testimony, the trial court’s refusal to charge voluntary manslaughter, the denial of his motion for a new trial based on the prosecutor’s statements in closing argument, and the trial court’s imposition of a sentence of forty years to life on the murder conviction. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Webster" on Justia Law