Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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The State appealed a trial court order granting defendants Michael Sinquell-Gainey and David Vaz's motion to suppress evidence obtained by law enforcement after an automobile stop. The State argued a Newport police officer had reasonable suspicion to stop defendants because he observed a traffic violation and because the totality of the circumstances supported reasonable suspicion of impaired driving. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed that the stop was justified based on reasonable suspicion of impairment. The Court therefore reversed and remanded. View "Vermont v. Sinquell-Gainey, Vaz" on Justia Law

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Defendant Austin Burnett appealed the Vermont criminal division’s order revoking his probation. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the court’s determination that defendant violated probation conditions prohibiting him from possessing or using a device with access to the internet or having a social-media account and from possessing or using pornography. However, the Supreme Court reversed the court’s determination that defendant violated a condition governing where he could reside, and remanded for the court to reconsider its disposition without that violation. View "Vermont v. Burnett" on Justia Law

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Defendant Roy Kuhlmann appealed the denial of his pro se motion for a new trial filed during the pendency of his appeal of his sentence and final judgment. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not have jurisdiction to consider defendant’s motion and therefore affirmed. View "Vermont v. Kuhlmann" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jayveon Caballero was convicted by a jury of second- degree murder. On appeal, he argued: (1) the evidence was insufficient to prove that he acted intentionally or in knowing disregard of a deadly risk to the victim when he fired a gun into the victim’s car; (2) the trial court deprived him of a fair trial by excluding a statement of remorse that he made to his cousin three hours after the shooting; and (3) the State showed three graphic crime scene photographs to the jury that were not admitted into evidence. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded there was adequate evidence of intent to support the verdict, and that the alleged evidentiary errors did not require reversal. View "Vermont v. Caballero" on Justia Law

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At about 1:40 a.m. on March 24, 2018, defendants Michael Sinquell-Gainey and David Vaz were in a vehicle that pulled into a gas station in Newport, Vermont. The officers parked nearby were having a conversation, noticing that defendants pulled into the gas station through an exit-only access. He watched defendants drive past a set of gas pumps, circle around, and return to park next to the first set of pumps. Officer LeClair testified that he could not recall how long defendants’ vehicle remained at the gas pumps, or whether defendants actually pumped gas. When defendants left the gas station a few moments later, Officer LeClair followed. Defendants came to an intersection controlled by a flashing yellow light for traffic approaching from their direction. The operator activated the left turn signal shortly before reaching the intersection, but then “stopped for quite some time,” even though no stop was required. The vehicle made a few more turns onto the interstate, "swinging wide" and crossing the centerline, at which time Officer LeClair stopped defendants under suspicion of reckless driving. After obtaining a search warrant, officers found heroin and fentanyl in the engine compartment. The State appealed a trial court order granting defendants’ motion to suppress evidence obtained by law enforcement after that automobile stop. The State argued the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop defendants because he observed a traffic violation and because the totality of the circumstances supported reasonable suspicion of impaired driving. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed that the stop was justified based on reasonable suspicion of impairment. The Supreme Court therefore reversed and remanded. View "Vermont v. Sinquell-Gainey & Vaz" on Justia Law

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In an interlocutory appeal, the issue presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review was whether the superior court erred by denying the State’s request to order a psychiatric evaluation of defendant Brent Boyajian before holding a competency hearing. In November 2019, the State charged defendant with burglary of an occupied dwelling, misdemeanor possession of stolen property, and simple assault of a protected professional. Defendant subsequently filed a motion to suppress evidence but asked the court to delay holding a hearing on the motion to allow defense counsel time to determine defendant’s competency to stand trial, indicating that he planned to hire an expert. At a status conference, defense counsel explained that defendant was raising the issue of competency because he had a significant traumatic brain injury and recently suffered an aneurysm. For this reason, counsel noted that defendant was being evaluated by a medical provider with a memory clinic that could perform neurological testing. The experts’ report concluded that “although [defendant] has many specific capacities necessary for adjudicative competence, his limitations in verbal memory and other aspects of cognitive processing are likely to create significant problems effectively communicating with counsel and assisting in his defense.” The experts opined that defendant was therefore not competent to stand trial. The State then filed its own motion for psychiatric evaluation, contending the court should not rely only on defendant's evaluation to determine competency. The court denied the State's request. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the State contended that 13 V.S.A. 4817(b) required the trial court to order an evaluation before holding a competency hearing when the court has reason to believe that a defendant may be incompetent due to mental disease or defect, and an evaluation by a defense-retained expert did not satisfy this requirement. To this the Supreme Court agreed, and therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Vermont v. Boyajian" on Justia Law

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In January 2018, defendant Scott Vogel was charged with one count of luring a child. According to the charging affidavit, in September 2017, defendant was in an online chatroom dedicated to “daddaughtersex.” He began a chat with a Vermont undercover law enforcement officer who was posing as the mother of two daughters aged seven and thirteen years old. In a series of messages exchanged with the officer, defendant discussed having sex with her two daughters, specifically expressing interest in the thirteen-year-old. He provided details of what sexual acts he would perform with the child and stated that he would bring a special alcoholic punch for the child to drink. The issue this interlocutory appeal presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review centered on whether a defendant could be tried on a charge of violating 13 V.S.A. 2828, which prohibited solicitation of a child or another person believed to be a child to engage in sexual activity, where the defendant believed that he was communicating with another adult to arrange sexual contact with a minor child but the child turned out to be fictitious. The Supreme Court concluded the facts alleged by the State in this case were sufficient to make out a prima facie case that defendant violated section 2828. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court’s decision denying defendant’s motion to dismiss, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Vermont v. Vogel" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Joseph Bruyette appealed an April 2021 Department of Corrections ("DOC") declaratory ruling, made after his case staffing in June 2019, in which the DOC stated that it would “continue to rely on evaluations and reports that refer to [an] expunged offense when assessing [an] individual’s risk to make programming, classification and release decisions.” The DOC further stated in its declaratory ruling that it would also “maintain a record of such evaluations and reports to support its decisions . . . until [the individual in question] ha[s] reached their maximum release date whether or not the offense has been expunged.” Petitioner had several felony convictions expunged prior to reclassifications in June and August 2021, and alleged that the declaratory ruling violated Vermont’s expungement statute, 13 V.S.A. 7606. The State argued petitioner lacked standing to bring this case because it did not rely on petitioner's expunged convictions during his final reclassification in August 2021. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that because the disputed facts were vital for consideration of petitioner’s standing, it remanded the case for further development of the record. View "In re Joseph Bruyette" on Justia Law

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Petitioner David Piquette appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to the State in his petition for post-conviction relief. Specifically, petitioner appealed that portion of the order concluding that even if petitioner’s trial counsel erred by not informing him of a plea offer, petitioner was not prejudiced by the error. The Vermont Supreme Court determined that because petitioner did not file a response to the State’s motion for summary judgment until after the superior court issued its order granting the motion and did not challenge the court’s subsequent order denying his request to set aside the judgment and reopen, judgment was affirmed. View "In re David E. Piquette" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Anthony Davey appealed the dismissal of his habeas corpus petition filed after the Department of Corrections (DOC) revoked his community-reentry furlough status. Petitioner argued that DOC’s procedural errors following his arrest, after he absconded from furlough for more than eighteen months, constituted a denial of his due process rights. He also contended that legislation governing appeals of community-reentry furlough revocations did not apply to him. While the Vermont Supreme Court agreed that DOC’s procedural errors raised legitimate concerns, petitioner did not avail himself of an appropriate alternative avenue to challenge DOC’s decision regarding his furlough status. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal. View "Davey v. Baker" on Justia Law