Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Defendant Christian Allis entered a conditional plea to a first offense for driving under the influence (DUI), reserving the right to appeal the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained during law enforcement entry into his home. Defendant argued on appeal that the trial court’s erred in its decision to deny his suppression motion because: (1) the police entered his home without consent; and (2) even if there was consent, the State failed to prove that the consent was voluntarily given. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court found the State failed to meet its burden to prove consent to enter and, accordingly, reversed. View "Vermont v. Allis" on Justia Law