Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Petitioner Cynthia Pinheiro appealed a superior court judgment denying her post-conviction relief (PCR). In her PCR action, petitioner sought to set aside her conviction for aggravated domestic assault on the basis that the plea colloquy was defective under Vermont Rules of Criminal Procedure 11(c) and (f) because the trial court failed to identify the mental element of the crime (that she acted willfully or recklessly) and to elicit a factual basis supporting that element. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the plea colloquy was not substantially compliant with the requirements of Rule 11(c) and accordingly reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Cynthia Pinheiro" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Cynthia Pinheiro appealed a superior court judgment denying her post-conviction relief (PCR). In her PCR action, petitioner sought to set aside her conviction for aggravated domestic assault on the basis that the plea colloquy was defective under Vermont Rules of Criminal Procedure 11(c) and (f) because the trial court failed to identify the mental element of the crime (that she acted willfully or recklessly) and to elicit a factual basis supporting that element. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the plea colloquy was not substantially compliant with the requirements of Rule 11(c) and accordingly reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Cynthia Pinheiro" on Justia Law

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In late October 2015, two women in Burlington found flyers advertising the Ku Klux Klan at their homes. One of the women was Mexican American; the other, African American. One woman found the flyer folded up and inserted into the mailbox by her front door, while the other woman found the flyer tucked into her front door. Neither woman saw this flyer at neighboring homes. The only other reported sighting was at a local copy store, where an employee reported finding the flyer in one of the store’s copy machines. Police viewed surveillance camera footage from the store and were able to identify defendant, William Schenk. The investigating detective contacted defendant, who admitted to distributing the flyers and explained that he was a “Kleagle,” or recruiter for the Ku Klux Klan. Defendant told the detective that he had distributed a total of thirty to forty flyers in neighborhoods that defendant described as “more white.” Defendant was charged with two counts of disorderly conduct in connection with the distribution of the recruitment flyers in the City of Burlington. For each count, the State charged that the penalty should have been enhanced under 13 V.S.A. 1455 because the crime was hate-motivated. Defendant appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion to dismiss the two disorderly conduct charges and the associated sentence enhancement. The Vermont Supreme Court held that the State failed to establish a prima facie case because defendant’s conduct conveyed neither the physical nor imminent threat of harm that is construed as the definition of “threatening behavior.” Accordingly, the Court did not reach defendant’s challenge to the application of the hate-motivated crime sentence enhancement. The Court reversed and granted defendant’s motion to dismiss. View "Vermont v. Schenk" on Justia Law

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The issue in this case was whether an individual convicted of a sex offense could be compelled to register as a sex offender if the putative victim was an adult undercover police officer posing as a minor child. Defendant Benjamin Charette appealed the trial court’s decision requiring him to register as a sex offender, arguing the plain language of the sex offender registration statute required that the underlying crime be committed against an actual minor victim. Considering the structure and purpose of the statute, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded 13 V.S.A. 5401(10)(B) encompassed attempted crimes against a putative victim who the defendant perceives to be a minor. Accordingly, the Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Charette" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jasen Suhr was charged with sexual assault, in violation of 13 V.S.A. 3252(a)(1), based on allegations that he forced his girlfriend to have sexual intercourse with him without her consent. At that time, defendant was seventeen, and his girlfriend was sixteen. The criminal court transferred defendant to juvenile court in September 2013, but it reversed that decision the next month, returning defendant to criminal court. In December 2013, defendant entered a conditional guilty plea, which was contingent on the family division’s accepting defendant for participation in the youthful-offender treatment program, pursuant to 33 V.S.A. 5281. In February 2014, the family division accepted defendant as a youthful offender and entered the terms of his juvenile probation. The court set a two-year juvenile probationary period, anticipating completion in February 2016. Defendant appealed the trial court’s decision that he violated the terms of his juvenile probation by: failing to attend school, comply with his GPS-monitoring requirements, and participate in a Restorative Justice Panel. Defendant also appealed the trial court’s decision to revoke his youthful-offender status based on these violations. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court determined the trial court’s decision did “not align with the circumstances of this case. … Given that defendant’s underlying conviction was for a sex offense, it was particularly important that treatment include appropriate sex-offender therapy. Based on the court’s findings, defendant was never offered adequate sex offender treatment. His failure to rehabilitate while participating in inappropriate therapy hardly demonstrates that defendant was unamenable to treatment. We find too speculative the court’s prediction that defendant would have violated his probation conditions even if he had received appropriate sex offender therapy. Accordingly, we hold that the trial court exceeded its discretion in revoking defendant’s youth-offender status based, in part, on defendant’s inadequate sex-offender therapy. In determining whether defendant is amenable to rehabilitation on remand, the court should give proper consideration to the adequacy of defendant’s treatment.” The Court affirmed the trial court’s conclusions with respect to defendant’s probation violations for failing to attend school or to comply with GPS monitoring, and for failing to participate in the Restorative Justice Panel, but reversed the trial court’s decision to revoke defendant’s Youthful Offender status. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Vermont v. Suhr" on Justia Law

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The conviction in this case stemmed from an incident that occurred in the summer of 2010. Defendant, who was attending the University of Vermont (UVM) at that time, met with complainant, another UVM student, to go to a Burlington beach. Complainant later reported that defendant had compelled her to engage in nonconsensual oral sex. In 2012, defendant was convicted of felony sexual assault and sentenced to eight years to life in prison. Defendant appealed, arguing his sentence violated the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment because his immigration status interacted with the to-serve sentence to make him unable to get sex-offender treatment, which meant that he would not be eligible for release under the Department of Corrections’ internal procedures. Without reaching the constitutional question, the Vermont Supreme Court reversed and remanded for resentencing, directing the trial court to consider the consequences that defendant’s immigration status had on his sentence. At the sentencing hearing, the court approved nine of the special conditions suggested in the PSI, but amended the proposed language of several. There was not, however, a disclosure of any other conditions that might be imposed on defendant. The probation order, which issued after the hearing, included not only the special conditions discussed on the record and imposed at the sentencing hearing, but also nineteen additional “standard” conditions. Defendant challenged the probation conditions before the Supreme Court, arguing many of the conditions were not orally pronounced during the sentencing hearing and were not sufficiently connected to his crime or rehabilitation. He also argued the sex-offender condition prohibiting defendant from purchasing, possessing, or using pornography or erotica and from going to “adult bookstores, sex shops, topless bars, etc.” was unrelated to his offense and unconstitutionally vague. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded defendant failed to properly preserve his objections to the standard conditions and reviewed them for plain error. Based on the particular provisions and the State’s concessions, the Court struck some conditions, remanded some conditions, and affirmed the remaining. The Supreme Court struck the challenged special condition as unsupported by the record. View "Vermont v. Lumumba" on Justia Law

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The conviction in this case stemmed from an incident that occurred in the summer of 2010. Defendant, who was attending the University of Vermont (UVM) at that time, met with complainant, another UVM student, to go to a Burlington beach. Complainant later reported that defendant had compelled her to engage in nonconsensual oral sex. In 2012, defendant was convicted of felony sexual assault and sentenced to eight years to life in prison. Defendant appealed, arguing his sentence violated the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment because his immigration status interacted with the to-serve sentence to make him unable to get sex-offender treatment, which meant that he would not be eligible for release under the Department of Corrections’ internal procedures. Without reaching the constitutional question, the Vermont Supreme Court reversed and remanded for resentencing, directing the trial court to consider the consequences that defendant’s immigration status had on his sentence. At the sentencing hearing, the court approved nine of the special conditions suggested in the PSI, but amended the proposed language of several. There was not, however, a disclosure of any other conditions that might be imposed on defendant. The probation order, which issued after the hearing, included not only the special conditions discussed on the record and imposed at the sentencing hearing, but also nineteen additional “standard” conditions. Defendant challenged the probation conditions before the Supreme Court, arguing many of the conditions were not orally pronounced during the sentencing hearing and were not sufficiently connected to his crime or rehabilitation. He also argued the sex-offender condition prohibiting defendant from purchasing, possessing, or using pornography or erotica and from going to “adult bookstores, sex shops, topless bars, etc.” was unrelated to his offense and unconstitutionally vague. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded defendant failed to properly preserve his objections to the standard conditions and reviewed them for plain error. Based on the particular provisions and the State’s concessions, the Court struck some conditions, remanded some conditions, and affirmed the remaining. The Supreme Court struck the challenged special condition as unsupported by the record. View "Vermont v. Lumumba" on Justia Law

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Defendant John Stern, Jr. appealed the trial court’s determination that he violated the terms of his probation by possessing a firearm. Defendant pled guilty to domestic assault in November 2015. The trial court deferred his sentence for one year and placed him on probation. Defendant’s deferred sentence and probation order stated, “You must not engage in criminal behavior[.]” After defendant’s release on probation, he asked his probation officer whether he could possess a firearm. The probation officer informed him that he was not an attorney, but he thought defendant could. During the fall of 2016, defendant encountered police officers three times. Each time, he voluntarily informed the officers that he possessed a gun. In November 2016, the State filed an affidavit alleging defendant had violated his probation by possessing a firearm on three occasions. After a hearing in December 2016, the trial court determined that Condition 31 of the probation certificate, which prohibited “engag[ing] in criminal behavior,” provided “fair notice” that firearm possession would violate 13 V.S.A. 4017, a strict liability offense; that defendant was in possession of a firearm on three occasions; and that defendant, accordingly, violated the terms of his probation. The court further held that the burden generally falls on defense counsel, not the probation officer, to inform defendant of potential “collateral consequences of a [criminal] conviction.” Defendant argued on appeal that the probation officer “eviscerate[d] the clarity” of the probation condition such that he cannot be held to have violated the terms of his probation. Furthermore, defendant argued that even if he did violate his probation, he did not do so willfully. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court: under these circumstances, it could not say the probation officer’s equivocal statement of his opinion was sufficient to “eviscerate” the fair notice provided by the express terms of the probation certificate. And while he may not have intended to violate his probation, defendant intentionally possessed a firearm. "We cannot find that the trial court committed error in finding defendant’s conduct willful, and we will not disturb its finding." View "Vermont v. Stern" on Justia Law

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Defendant John Stern, Jr. appealed the trial court’s determination that he violated the terms of his probation by possessing a firearm. Defendant pled guilty to domestic assault in November 2015. The trial court deferred his sentence for one year and placed him on probation. Defendant’s deferred sentence and probation order stated, “You must not engage in criminal behavior[.]” After defendant’s release on probation, he asked his probation officer whether he could possess a firearm. The probation officer informed him that he was not an attorney, but he thought defendant could. During the fall of 2016, defendant encountered police officers three times. Each time, he voluntarily informed the officers that he possessed a gun. In November 2016, the State filed an affidavit alleging defendant had violated his probation by possessing a firearm on three occasions. After a hearing in December 2016, the trial court determined that Condition 31 of the probation certificate, which prohibited “engag[ing] in criminal behavior,” provided “fair notice” that firearm possession would violate 13 V.S.A. 4017, a strict liability offense; that defendant was in possession of a firearm on three occasions; and that defendant, accordingly, violated the terms of his probation. The court further held that the burden generally falls on defense counsel, not the probation officer, to inform defendant of potential “collateral consequences of a [criminal] conviction.” Defendant argued on appeal that the probation officer “eviscerate[d] the clarity” of the probation condition such that he cannot be held to have violated the terms of his probation. Furthermore, defendant argued that even if he did violate his probation, he did not do so willfully. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court: under these circumstances, it could not say the probation officer’s equivocal statement of his opinion was sufficient to “eviscerate” the fair notice provided by the express terms of the probation certificate. And while he may not have intended to violate his probation, defendant intentionally possessed a firearm. "We cannot find that the trial court committed error in finding defendant’s conduct willful, and we will not disturb its finding." View "Vermont v. Stern" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jeffrey Davis appealed after a jury convicted him for financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult. In 1995, defendant’s mother and father had an attorney draft a conditional power of attorney document. The terms of the power of attorney were general, granting the attorney-in- fact “full power to act for [defendant’s mother and in defendant’s mother’s] name in all matters and to do all things which [defendant’s mother] could do if personally present.” The power of attorney named defendant’s father as primary attorney-in-fact and listed conditions that had to be met before defendant’s father could assume this role. The power of attorney named defendant as secondary attorney-in-fact, and, again, the document required that conditions be met before defendant could assume his role as his mother’s attorney-in-fact. Specifically, defendant was required to attach one of three documents to the power of attorney: a statement signed by defendant’s father to the effect that he was unable or unwilling to serve as defendant’s mother’s attorney-in-fact, a statement signed by a medical doctor stating that defendant’s father was unable or unwilling to serve as attorney-in-fact, or a copy of defendant’s father’s death certificate. There was no evidence presented showing that any of these conditions precedent were ever met. Defendant’s father died in 2006. Upon his death, defendant’s mother moved into an assisted living facility. In early 2014, defendant’s mother suffered a fall. An employee of the elder living facility testified that, at this point, defendant became more involved in his mother’s care. Employees of the elder living facility and defendant’s mother’s doctor testified that around this time defendant began to represent himself as his mother’s attorney-in-fact. It is undisputed that at this time defendant began controlling his mother’s finances, including taking her checkbook and credit card and redirecting her mail for delivery at his address. Rent checks to the assisted living facility began bouncing; facility later initiated eviction proceedings and, in December 2014, made a report to Adult Protective Services. Adult Protective Services eventually referred the matter to local police, ultimately leading to charges filed and later this conviction. Defendant raised four arguments on appeal. His first two arguments arose from the trial court’s denial of his motion for a judgment of acquittal and the sufficiency of the State’s evidence. He also argued the court’s instructions to the jury were erroneous, and that the court erroneously permitted the victim’s guardian, rather than the victim, to testify during sentencing. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Davis" on Justia Law