Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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A.A., born in February 2003, was first adjudicated delinquent and placed at Woodside, a secure treatment facility for juveniles, in September 2016. He was placed back in his home in the continued custody of the Department for Children and Families (DCF) in December 2017. In 2018, A.A. was charged in the criminal division, with one count of assault and robbery, injury resulting, and one count of providing false information to a police officer. Shortly thereafter, a delinquency petition alleging larceny was filed against A.A. in the family division. While these cases proceeded, A.A. was administratively held at Woodside in connection with the earlier, unrelated delinquency case. In this appeal, the issue presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review centered on whether the statutory timeline for adjudicating the merits of A.A.'s delinquency petition while held in a secure treatment facility applied to the delinquency petition where there was no secured-facility placement order because A.A. had already been placed at a secure facility pursuant to a prior, separate delinquency petition. Because the Supreme Court concluded the statutory timeline set forth in 33 V.S.A. 5291(b) did not apply in such situations, the Court rejected A.A.'s call for dismissal of the petition on appeal and vacation of the secure-facility placement order that had been issued under a different petition. The Court affirmed the family division’s order adjudicating A.A. delinquent for having committed assault and robbery. View "In re A.A." on Justia Law

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Defendant Shannon Huston was stopped by a law-enforcement officer in July 2019 and received notice that the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) intended to suspend her license to operate a motor vehicle. Prior to a hearing on the notice of suspension, defendant filed a motion to suppress and dismiss, arguing the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion that she was engaged in criminal activity because there was insufficient evidence to show that defendant was operating while under the influence of drugs. As a result, defendant argued the officer had no authority to ask her to exit her vehicle and any evidence gathered following this exit request should be suppressed and the case dismissed. This argument was successful: the trial court suppressed evidence following the stop. The State appealed. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court failed to make factual findings essential to resolving the case, reversed and remanded for the trial court to reconsider its conclusions. View "Vermont v. Huston" on Justia Law

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Defendant Loren Kandzior challenged his conviction on one count of sexual assault on two grounds: (1) that the trial court erred by excluding evidence of a prior false rape allegation; and (2) that his right to a fair trial was violated because the jury was exposed to “extraneous, highly prejudicial information” - namely, the substance of an undetermined number of bench conferences that occurred during the three-day trial. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court committed plain error by failing to investigate when it became aware that the jury may have overhead numerous bench conferences during defendant’s trial. Accordingly, defendant’s conviction was vacated and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "Vermont v. Kandzior" on Justia Law

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Defendants Thomas and Katherine Ferguson appealed their respective convictions for animal cruelty and a judgment for animal forfeiture, both arising from the conditions in which they kept over twenty animals in their care. In September 2017, defendants’ landlord entered their trailer to check the smoke detectors. He found the interior of the residence smelled strongly of urine and ammonia, and he observed more than two dozen animals in “questionable living conditions.” Numerous dogs were crowded into small crates and lacked access to food and water, including a nursing mother and her puppies. Birds were kept in dirty cages and their water was viscous and filled with feces, food, and feathers. Landlord took photographs and a video of some of the animals, including three dogs sharing one travel crate. Landlord, his family, and other contractors continued to do maintenance work on the property for the next month, during which time the animals remained in similar conditions. One of landlord’s contractors eventually contacted the police regarding the animals’ conditions. Defendants challenged their ultimate convictions on the basis that the affidavit prepared by a police officer in support of the search warrant that led to the charges relied on information obtained from a prior illegal search, and therefore the court should have excluded all evidence obtained as a result of the warrant. They challenged the forfeiture order on the ground that the court improperly admitted hearsay statements in the forfeiture hearing. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed as to the criminal convictions because even if the information from the challenged prior search was stricken, the remaining portions of the affidavit were sufficient to support the search warrant that led to the charges. The Court agreed that the court improperly allowed hearsay evidence in the forfeiture proceeding, and remanded for the court to reconsider its ruling without the objectionable evidence. View "Vermont v. Ferguson" on Justia Law

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Defendant Darryl Galloway appealed a trial court’s conclusion that he violated a condition of probation when he failed to complete a sex-offender treatment program while incarcerated. He argued that the Department of Corrections (DOC) impermissibly modified the condition in requiring him to complete an in-house program. In January 2009, defendant pled guilty to four counts of lewd and lascivious conduct - charges stemming from incidents in which defendant exposed his genitals to clothing store clerks in 2006. He received an aggregate sentence of four to twenty years suspended, except four years to serve. At the change-of-plea hearing, the court imposed several conditions of probation and placed defendant on probation. Relevant here, condition 31 mandated completion of the in-house program. In March 2010, DOC filed a violation-of-probation (VOP) complaint against defendant for violating condition 31, which defendant conceded. The court revoked probation on counts one and two and continued probation under the original conditions in counts three and four. In January 2019, DOC released defendant after he served the ten-year sentence on counts one and two. DOC put him on a bus bound for Seattle before realizing he was still on probation on counts three and four. DOC then retrieved defendant, placed him back in custody, and filed a second VOP complaint for violating condition 31 on counts three and four. DOC alleged that defendant refused to participate in VTPSA during his ten years of incarceration. In March 2019, the trial court held another VOP hearing. Noting a lack of evidence to prove that defendant was waiting to complete sex-offender treatment in the community, and his willingness to leave for Seattle without completing the treatment, the court found that defendant did not intend to complete sex-offender treatment. The court then found that defendant had been on probation since his guilty plea in 2009 and that given his ten-year failure to complete the treatment, he did not complete the programming within a reasonable amount of time. The court found defendant in violation of probation, revoked probation on counts three and four, and imposed the underlying two-to-ten-year sentence on those counts. The Vermont Supreme Court determined defendant did not have the opportunity to participate in a treatment program of his choosing in the community with respect to the remaining counts, so it could not find defendant actively refused to participate or that his conduct evinced an intent not to comply with condition 31. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Vermont v. Galloway" on Justia Law

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Defendant Henry Clinton-Aimable appealed his conviction of knowing and unlawful possession of more than one ounce of cocaine. Defendant was charged with possession of cocaine following a traffic stop. On appeal, he argued that the court erred in denying his motion to suppress. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the seizure of defendant’s car was not supported by probable cause and that therefore the evidence seized from defendant’s car was not admissible. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and defendant's conviction was vacated. View "Vermont v. Clinton-Aimable" on Justia Law

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Defendant Eric Nagel appeals from the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress and dismiss. A deputy sheriff driving along Route 2 recognized the vehicle in front of him from previous law enforcement encounters. He ran a registration check on the vehicle and learned the car was registered to Courtney Nagel. The officer knew from prior law enforcement experience that Courtney Nagel was married to defendant and that defendant’s license was criminally suspended. He also was aware that defendant had been known to visit residences suspected of drug dealing. When the deputy initiated a traffic stop of defendant's car, a subsequent search resulted in the deputy finding drugs and drug-related paraphernalia in the vehicle. Defendant argued in support of his suppression motion that police officers violated Article 11 of the Vermont Constitution by expanding the scope of a valid traffic stop into a drug investigation without reasonable suspicion of drug-related criminal activity. To this, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed and reversed. View "Vermont v. Nagel" on Justia Law

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Defendant Austin Burnett appealed a trial court’s decision that he violated a condition of his probation. Defendant’s relevant underlying convictions were for sexual assault of a victim under the age of sixteen and sexual assault, no consent. The court sentenced him to concurrent sentences of four to six years, suspended except for thirty-eight months, and five years, deferred, respectively. The court apparently generated one probation order in each docket, and the orders were filed separately in the court’s corresponding files. Both orders imposed eight standard conditions on defendant. Neither was signed by defendant. One of those conditions provided, “You shall participate fully in the Vermont Treatment Program for Sexual Abusers [VTPSA] during the course of your unsuspended sentence. Failure to complete said program while incarcerated may result in a violation of your probation.” This appeal arose in the context of the latter probation condition; the State filed substantially identical complaints for violation of probation in both dockets. The court noted that the VOP complaint filed by the State also listed “other non-compliant behavior,” and asked whether the defendant was planning to admit to any other behavior. The State said that no other admission was required, and defendant’s attorney stated that the other behavior was “older” and “I think the lock picking covers it.” Defendant argued the State both failed to prove the conditions of his probation and failed to prove that his conduct amounted to a violation. The Vermont Supreme Court concurred that the State failed to prove that defendant’s conduct amounted to a violation of the probation condition (VOP) and accordingly reversed on that ground. View "Vermont v. Burnett" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed after she was convicted for conspiracy to commit heroin trafficking. On appeal, she argued the trial court erred in: (1) denying her motion for judgment of acquittal because the State failed to prove the weight of the seized drugs; (2) admitting an out-of-court statement by a deceased co-conspirator; and (3) responding to a question raised by the jury regarding the elements of the conspiracy charge. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction for first-degree aggravated domestic assault. On appeal, he argued the trial court denied him the right to a fair trial by refusing to grant immunity to his witness or to compel the State to do so. In addition, he contended the trial court’s supplemental instruction improperly pressured the jury to reach a verdict. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Gates" on Justia Law