Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Petitioner Mark Clark appealed pro se the dismissal of his complaint regarding his eligibility for prison work camp. Petitioner is an inmate under the custody and control of the DOC. He pled guilty to driving under the influence, fourth offense, in July 2016 pursuant to a plea agreement. The plea agreement included a “recommendation to work camp.” The DOC subsequently deemed petitioner ineligible for work camp because petitioner had an earlier conviction that involved a violent assault against a law enforcement officer. Petitioner grieved this decision within the DOC, and his grievances were denied. The trial court concluded that it lacked authority to review this Department of Corrections (DOC) programming decision. Vermont case law "makes clear that it is for the DOC to assess petitioner’s eligibility for work camp." The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the trial court and thus affirmed its decision. View "Clark v. Menard" 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

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Defendant Aaron Cady appeals the trial court’s decision, rejecting his coram nobis petition challenging the validity of the plea colloquy preceding his conviction for driving under the influence, second offense (DUI-2). The trial court found the plea was made knowingly and voluntarily, and entered a guilty judgment. Defendant did not appeal the DUI-2 conviction. After complying with all sentencing terms, the trial court discharged defendant from probation. In January 2017, defendant was charged with DUI-3. In June 2017, defendant filed a petition for coram nobis in the DUI-2 docket, alleging that the trial court failed to ensure that a factual basis existed for the plea under Vermont Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(f) in that case. Defendant asserted that he would suffer collateral consequences because the DUI-2 conviction would be used to enhance the penalty for the pending DUI-3 charge. The trial court denied defendant’s petition for coram nobis, concluding that although coram nobis was available because defendant had no other remedy available to challenge the DUI-2 conviction, his plea colloquy nevertheless satisfied Rule 11(f). In so finding, the trial court concluded that the change-of-plea court sufficiently inquired into the facts as they related to each element of the offense. The issue this case raised for the Vermont Supreme Court was whether a defendant who was not currently suffering a collateral consequence of an enhanced sentence, but faced the threat of an enhanced sentence due to a prior conviction, could preemptively challenge the plea colloquy preceding the prior conviction using coram nobis. The Supreme Court concluded that because individuals, like defendant, can raise the adequacy of a plea colloquy in a prior conviction through post-conviction relief (PCR) proceedings once sentenced, coram nobis relief was not available, "Coram nobis relief is only available as a last resort and cannot supplant other forms of relief such as direct appeal, post-judgment motions, or PCR petitions under 13 V.S.A. 7131." View "Vermont v. Cady" 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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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