Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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Defendant Sanel Masic was convicted by jury of luring a child . On appeal, he argued 13 V.S.A. 2828 was an unconstitutional restriction on speech and void for vagueness under the U.S. and Vermont Constitutions. He further challenged the superior court’s imposition of a probation condition as part of his sentence. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, but remanded for additional findings regarding the condition of probation. View "Vermont v. Masic" on Justia Law

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Defendant Roy Kuhlmann was convicted by jury of unlawful trespass of an occupied dwelling, obstruction of justice, and unlawful restraint. The unlawful-trespass and obstruction-of-justice charges were based on defendant’s acts of entering complainant’s residence, hiding under her bed to listen to her telephone calls, emerging from under the bed and frightening her, and then, when the state police later arrived, urging her to tell them that nothing was wrong. Defendant argued on appeal there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction for trespassing because he had permission to enter the complainant’s house. He claimed his statements in the presence of police were not threatening and were therefore insufficient to support the obstruction-of-justice charge. Finally, defendant challenged his conviction for unlawful restraint, which was based on an altercation that took place three months earlier during which he pushed the complainant onto her bed and held her down for five minutes. He contended the restraint was merely incidental to the assault that preceded it and could not support a separate conviction. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the unlawful-restraint conviction, but reversed defendant’s convictions for unlawful trespass and obstruction of justice because they were not supported by the record. View "Vermont v. Kuhlmann" on Justia Law

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Defendant Gordon Noyes, Jr., was convicted by jury verdict of aggravated, repeated sexual assault of a child and lewd and lascivious conduct with a child, second offense. On appeal, he requested vacatur of these convictions and remand to the trial court, arguing the trial court erred: (1) denying his motion for a mistrial following an expert witness’s hearsay testimony in violation of a pretrial order; (2) allowing the same expert to testify regarding sex- offender behavior; and (3) permitting the jury to see a video of the complaining witness’s statement to law enforcement in addition to her live testimony. In the alternative, defendant contended that if none of these individual circumstances merited reversal, their cumulative impact did. Finding no "miscarriage of justice here," the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's denial of relief. View "Vermont v. Noyes" on Justia Law

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Defendant Dean Jeffrey Stearns appeals the superior court’s dismissal of his motion for sentence reconsideration as untimely. In December 2018, defendant pleaded guilty to five counts of voyeurism and two counts of promoting a recording of sexual conduct. On January 23, 2020, he was sentenced to an aggregate term of ten to fifteen years’ imprisonment, suspended except five years to serve. Defendant filed a notice of appeal on February 20, 2020, but later moved to dismiss the appeal. The Vermont Supreme Court granted the motion to dismiss the appeal by entry order dated August 28, 2020. Pursuant to 13 V.S.A. 7042(a) and Vermont Rule of Criminal Procedure 35(b), defendant moved for sentence reconsideration in the superior court ninety days later, on November 26, 2020. The superior court dismissed defendant’s motion for sentence reconsideration because the motion was filed more than ninety days after the sentence was imposed and, in its view, the Supreme Court’s order dismissing the appeal without affirming on the merits was not an “order or judgment of the Supreme Court upholding a judgment of conviction.” Defendant appealed, arguing that because the Supreme Court’s order dismissing the first appeal left untouched his conviction, the order was an “order or judgment of the Supreme Court upholding a judgment of conviction.” Concluding that the motion is timely, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for review on the merits. View "Vermont v. Stearns" on Justia Law

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Defendant Joseph Bruyette appealed an order compelling him to provide a DNA sample for inclusion in the Vermont DNA database. Defendant was convicted of one count of burglary and three counts of sexual assault in 1990. He has been continuously incarcerated in the custody of the Department of Corrections (DOC) since 1987. For most of this time, defendant has been held in facilities out of state. In 1998, the Vermont Legislature passed a law creating a state DNA database. Defendant’s convictions qualified as designated crimes under the law, so the statute required him to submit a DNA sample. He argued 20 V.S.A. 1933(b) excused him from providing a DNA sample because he has previously provided a sample. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s rejection of defendant’s position that the statute exempted him from providing a subsequent sample. View "Vermont v. Bruyette" on Justia Law

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Earl Scott appealed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the State of Vermont concerning his claim for compensation under the Vermont Innocence Protection Act (VIPA). In April 2010, Scott was charged with two counts of sexual assault against a person under the age of sixteen. Scott was twenty-two at the time the charges were filed. The offenses were alleged to have occurred “sometime during 2003 or 2004.” Subsequently, Scott pleaded guilty to an amended charge of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child and was sentenced to two to five years’ incarceration. He began serving his sentence in January 2012. While in custody under sentence, Scott brought a claim for post-conviction relief (PCR) in civil court. The claim was later amended to assert that the plea colloquy did not comply with the requirements of Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 11(f) and that his criminal counsel was ineffective on several other grounds. While the PCR claim was pending, Scott reached his maximum sentence date and was released in March 2016. In May 2016, the State conceded Scott’s plea colloquy did not comply with Rule 11 and that his conviction should be vacated, resulting in the remand of the prosecution to the criminal division. Scott’s counsel submitted a proposed order vacating the criminal conviction in June 2016, providing Scott with a copy. Also, while the PCR claim was pending, Scott learned he had not been given proper credit for good time and had therefore served time beyond his actual maximum release date. He made a claim seeking compensation for the time he remained in jail beyond that point. In July 2016, with knowledge that his criminal conviction was going to be vacated, Scott signed a general release of claims against the State in exchange for $40,000. Scott filed the lawsuit at issue here, seeking recovery under the VIPA. The State moved for summary judgment, arguing the general release barred Scott’s claim. Alternatively, the State contended Scott was not entitled to relief because he was not “actually innocent,” and he either fabricated evidence or committed perjury during proceedings related to the charged offense. In ruling on the motion, the court held that the language of the release was unambiguous, and that it plainly operated to preclude Scott’s claim. The court also determined that, even setting aside the general release, plaintiff’s action could not proceed because he did not meet the VIPA’s actual-innocence requirement. It did not reach the State’s alternative argument. Finding no reversible error in the trial court’s order, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the State. View "Scott v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jonathan Richards appealed after he was convicted by jury conviction on one count of misdemeanor unlawful trespass. He argued the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on an essential element of the crime, contending that 13 V.S.A. 3705(a) should have an implied mental state requirement, or knowledge element. Defendant also argued the trial court abused its discretion by imposing the probation condition that he not “engage in criminal behavior” because the condition was impermissibly vague. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the Vermont Legislature intentionally omitted a knowledge element in the misdemeanor unlawful trespass statute, and that the probation condition provided sufficient notice of proscribed conduct. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Vermont v. Richards" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Clayton Turner was convicted of absconding from furlough twice, once in November 2001 and once in January 2009. In June 2011, petitioner was charged with second-degree aggravated domestic assault, with a habitual-offender enhancement that was based in part on the two earlier absconding-from-furlough convictions. Petitioner left the state and was not arrested on the domestic-assault charge until November 2018. He was arraigned and held without bail. In December 2019, petitioner filed petitions to expunge the two absconding-from- furlough convictions, arguing, in relevant part, that he was entitled to expungement of those convictions under the terms of Vermont’s expungement statute because the Legislature had recently decriminalized absconding from furlough. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that expungement of petitioner’s prior escape convictions was not available to him under the governing law; accordingly, it affirmed the criminal division’s decision. View "Vermont v. Turner" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jeremy Lambert appealed his conviction on two counts of sexual assault against a minor, M.M. He argued: (1) the trial court erred in admitting statements he made to police detectives because they failed to read him Miranda warnings and his statements were not given voluntarily; and (2) the court infringed upon his right to a fair trial and to present a defense when it limited his cross-examination of M.M.’s mother and precluded two witnesses from testifying about statements allegedly made by M.M’s mother. Because defendant was not in custody for the purposes of a Miranda warning, gave his statements to the detectives voluntarily, and failed to preserve his evidentiary claims, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Lambert" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Michael Lewis appealed the trial court’s summary judgment denying his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) of his 2009 convictions and accompanying habitual-offender sentence enhancement. He argued: (1) his plea to the 2005 false-pretenses charge used to support the 2009 habitual-offender enhancement lacked a factual basis; (2) three of his 2009 convictions were invalid because he did not verbally enter a plea; and (3) the PCR court erred in refusing to address some of his claims. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded petitioner waived a potential collateral challenge to use of the 2005 predicate conviction to enhance his 2009 sentence when he pled guilty to the habitual-offender enhancement in 2009; considering the plea colloquy as a whole, the court’s failure to elicit a verbal plea contemporaneous with the court’s review of three of the 2009 charges did not invalidate his convictions on those charges; and the PCR court did not err in declining to address additional claims raised by petitioner in argument but omitted from his amended petition. Thus, judgment was affirmed. View "In re Michael Lewis" on Justia Law