Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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Defendant Dean Stearns pled guilty in 2018 to five counts of voyeurism and two counts of promoting a recording of sexual conduct. He was sentenced in 2020 to an aggregate term of ten to fifteen years suspended, except five years to serve. Defendant appealed the denial of his motion for sentence reconsideration, arguing the trial court abused its discretion by: (1) failing to apply individualized sentencing factors; (2) not considering how changes to incarceration conditions during the pandemic adversely affected the ability to achieve sentencing goals; and (3) upholding a sentence that had been effectively increased due to pandemic-era restrictions. The State contended, among other things, that defendant’s motion for sentence reconsideration was properly denied because sentence reconsideration did not include review of post-incarceration matters and defendant sought relief based on post-incarceration circumstances. To this the Vermont Supreme Court agreed and affirmed primarily on that basis. View "Vermont v. Stearns" on Justia Law

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Defendants A.P. and Z.P. were charged by the Franklin County Vermont State’s Attorney’s Office with multiple serious criminal offenses in April 2020. The State’s Attorney’s Office discovered a conflict of interest, and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office (AGO) took over prosecuting the case. In December 2020, the AGO determined that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges and on December 30, 2020, dismissed all pending charges against defendants. In January 2021, defendants moved to seal the criminal cases under 13 V.S.A. § 7603(a)(1)(B). The AGO filed a notice on January 27, 2021, indicating that it did not object to the sealing requests. Consequently, on January 28, 2021, the criminal division issued an order sealing the underlying criminal dockets. The orders indicated that they applied to “all court files and records, law enforcement records, fingerprints, and photographs applicable to the proceeding” and directed that “[a]ll agencies and officials in custody of such documents shall comply.” The issue in this appeal was whether the Vermont Journalism Trust (VJT) could access sealed records from a criminal division proceeding. The trial court denied VJT’s request for access to records that were previously sealed on the ground that access was not permitted by statute and the court lacked discretion to override the statutory provision. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that VJT lacked standing to appeal that order and dismissed the appeal. View "Vermont v. Z.P. & A.P. (Vermont Journalism Trust, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a family division’s order granting juvenile E.S.’s motion to suppress a statement given to law enforcement in this delinquency proceeding. In July 2021, the state’s attorney filed a delinquency petition alleging E.S. engaged in behavior designated as the crime of lewd or lascivious conduct with a child. E.S. subsequently moved to suppress statements he made during an interview with law enforcement, arguing that he was in custody during the interview and therefore should have been provided with Miranda warnings and the ability to consult with an independent interested adult. The State opposed the motion. The family division granted E.S.’s motion, concluding that he was in custody during the interview because a reasonable juvenile in his circumstances would not have felt free to terminate the interview and leave. The State argued on appeal of the suppression motion that the family court used the wrong standard to determine whether E.S. was in custody during the interview. E.S. argued 13 V.S.A. § 7403(c) did not provide a right for the State to appeal an order granting a motion to suppress in a juvenile delinquency proceeding. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with E.S. and dismissed this appeal. View "In re E.S., Juvenile" on Justia Law

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The State of Vermont appealed a family division court's dismissal of three juvenile delinquency petitions against S.D. for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The State argued the family division retained jurisdiction to transfer them to the criminal division even after S.D. reached the age of twenty years and six months. S.D. argued 13 V.S.A. § 7403 did not provide a right for the State to appeal the dismissal of a delinquency petition. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with S.D. and dismissed this appeal, overruling precedent to the contrary in In re F.E.F., 594 A.2d 897 (1991). View "In re S.D." on Justia Law

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In a consolidated appeal, petitioner E.C. challenged two trial court orders denying his requests to expunge his criminal-history records. Petitioner’s criminal-history records included several felony and misdemeanor convictions, as well as several charges that were dismissed before trial. First,hearguedthathisdismissedchargesshouldbeexpungedunder 13 V.S.A. § 7603(e)(1)(B), which directs a court to expunge a record “related to the citation or arrest of a person . . . within 60 days after the final disposition of the case if . . . the charge is dismissed with prejudice,” unless a party objects in the interests of justice. Petitioner explained that the three-year statute of limitations had expired for each of his dismissed charges, and that the dismissals therefore were with prejudice by operation of the statute and thus were eligible for expungement. Second, he argued that his convictions for offenses committed when he was seventeen years old, including misdemeanor possession of marijuana, should be expunged under 13 V.S.A. § 7602(a)(1)(B), which permits a person to request expungement if they were “convicted of an offense for which the underlying conduct is no longer prohibited by law or designated as a criminal offense.” The Vermont Supreme Court concluded Petitioner’s petitions were properly denied under the governing law and therefore affirmed, but remanded for the Windham criminal division to expunge any of petitioner’s convictions eligible under 2019, No. 167 (Adj. Sess.), § 31. View "Vermont v. E.C." on Justia Law

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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