Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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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

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Defendant Christopher Hale appealed a trial court decision denying his motion for judgment of acquittal on his charge of possessing brass knuckles with the intent to use them. He argued that although he possessed brass knuckles, the State failed to produce sufficient evidence of his intent to use them. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Hale" on Justia Law

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Defendant Steven Bourgoin was convicted by jury on five counts of second-degree murder, one count of grossly negligent operation, and one count of operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent. The charges stemmed from a tragic incident during which defendant drove the wrong way on the interstate and crashed into a car, killing five teenagers, before fleeing the scene in a police cruiser, returning to the scene shortly thereafter by again driving the wrong way on the interstate, and crashing into the wreckage. Defendant, who asserted insanity and diminished-capacity defenses at trial, argued he was entitled to reversal of his murder convictions because the State failed to prove the intent element of second-degree murder and the trial court erred in admitting undisclosed testimony and in instructing the jury. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed defendant's convictions. View "Vermont v. Bourgoin" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jospeh Blanchard was convicted by jury for criminal threatening and impeding a public officer. The charges arose after a dark and rainy night in April 2018, when a police officer pulled defendant's car over with a burned-out passenger-side headlight. Defendant asked the officer why he was pulled over, and whether he was suspected of a crime. After some back and forth in which defendant asserted that there was no reason to stop him, defendant gave the officer his license, insurance and car registration papers. Upon reviewing the registration and insurance documents, the officer observed both were out-of-date, with the registration expiring in 2016. Defendant told the officer he did not have to have registration or insurance and that it was his constitutional right to travel, and he asked to speak with the officer's supervisor. Upon the supervisor's arrival, and after speaking with defendant for approximately thirty-seven minutes, both officers informed defendant they were going to ground his vehicle in the parking lot because of his defective equipment and outdated registration and insurance. Defendant resisted, stating he would defend himself, and claimed he had an AR-15 rifle in the car. The supervisor testified defendant did not appear to be joking and that he believed he was in jeopardy. After several more minutes of the supervisor telling defendant that he could not drive the car and defendant responding that he could and that he had not committed a crime, defendant attempted to open the driver’s-side door to his car. The supervisor pushed the door closed before defendant could get back in. In this time, two other officers arrived at the scene. Defendant again attempted to open the door; the supervisor pushed the door shut and placed defendant under arrest for impeding an officer. On appeal, defendant argued insufficient evidence was presented to support his conviction, and that the jury instructions in impeding an officer were impermissibly vague and overbroad and failed to guarantee unanimity. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed defendant's conviction. View "Vermont v. Blanchard" on Justia Law

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Defendant Max Misch was charged under 13 V.S.A. 4021(a) with two counts of unlawfully possessing a large-capacity magazine. This issue this appeal presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review was whether Vermont’s ban on large- capacity magazines (LCMs) violated the right to bear arms under Chapter I, Article 16 of the Vermont Constitution. To this, the Supreme Court concluded the magazine ban was a reasonable regulation of the right of the people to bear arms for self-defense, and therefore affirmed the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss the charges against him. View "Vermont v. Misch" on Justia Law

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Defendant Chad Spencer was convicted by jury of resisting arrest. Three uniformed state troopers were dispatched to serve a relief-from-abuse order on defendant. When the troopers explained their purpose, defendant became angry and stormed off inside the house. As was their practice to read the order to the recipient and obtain the latter’s signature on a return of service, the troopers asked defendant whether they could enter the home. When defendant consented, the officers followed him inside. There, defendant became increasingly agitated, and started yelling and swearing at the officers. At one point, defendant moved quickly and aggressively toward one of the troopers. Thinking he was being attacked, the other officers interceded and tried to arrest defendant for assaulting an officer. Defendant did not comply with the officers’ verbal demands; he was handcuffed, and placed inside a police cruiser, continuing to pull away and kicking an officer in the chin on the way. On appeal, defendant argued the superior court erred when it instructed jurors that whether he was read his Miranda rights was irrelevant to their consideration of the charge. The Vermont Supreme Court clarified the relevance of Miranda warnings to the resisting-arrest offense, and held on evidentiary grounds, there was no error in this case. View "Vermont v. Spencer" on Justia Law

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Defendant Scott Lafaso was convicted by jury of burglary, unlawful restraint, stalking, interference with access to emergency services, and two counts of unlawful trespass. These charges stemmed from unsuccessful attempts to reconcile with a former girlfriend. When the girlfriend ended the relationship, defendant twice entered her home without permission, held her down, and grabbed her phone from her hand when she tried to call police. On appeal of his convictions, defendant argued he was deprived of his right to a speedy trial, and that the superior court erred in not excluding certain testimony from the jury’s consideration. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Lafaso" on Justia Law

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The State of Vermont appealed a trial court order denying its motion for a mental examination of defendant Aita Gurung, who was charged with the first-degree murder of his wife and attempted first-degree murder of his mother-in-law. The State argued the trial court had the discretion to order the evaluation and erred when it determined that, because a former prosecution and the current prosecution were the same proceeding, Vermont Rule of Criminal Procedure 16.1(a)(1)(I) did not allow for this evaluation and that, even if the rule allowed for it, an additional evaluation would not be reasonable. Defendant, a native of Nepal, was alleged to have attacked his wife and mother-in- law with a meat cleaver in 2017. Defendant was arraigned and ordered held without bail at the Vermont Psychiatric Hospital for the purpose of conducting competency and sanity evaluations. After a first competency evaluation using a Nepali interpreter, the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office and defendant stipulated defendant was competent to stand trial. A year later, the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office moved for a second evaluation. The second evaluation was conducted without an interpreter; a report of the second evaluation concluded defendant was insane at the time of the attack. Concluding it did not have sufficient evidence to rebut defendant's insanity defense, the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office moved to dismiss without prejudice its case. After an independent review of the case, the Office of the Vermont Attorney General (AG) filed first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder against defendant. Defendant again provided notice of an insanity defense. At a subsequent hearing, the AG notified the trial court it intended to seek the mental examination at issue in this appeal. The AG noted that if the court did not permit the AG to conduct an independent evaluation of defendant, “then in essence it is binding the Attorney General’s Office to the previously obtained expert which [it] did not hire and [has] no involvement with.” The Vermont Supreme Court determined the trial court abused its discretion in denying the AG's motion. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Vermont v. Gurung" on Justia Law

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Defendant Anthony Brunetta appealed the civil suspension of his driver’s license for driving under the influence (DUI), arguing that the criminal division erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence he alleged was obtained based on an illegal stop of his vehicle. Specifically, defendant claimed the officer lacked a reasonable, articulable suspicion of wrongdoing to stop his car as required by the federal and state constitutions. At trial, the State played a dashboard video recording of the stop at issue, and the trooper who stopped defendant testified that he did not observe defendant use a turn signal at the intersection. On cross-examination, the trooper reiterated that defendant did not use his turn signal at the intersection, and that he would have seen the signal if defendant had used it. Defendant did not challenge the criminal division’s finding that he did not use his vehicle’s turn signal before changing direction at the intersection in question. He argued to the Vermont Supreme Court only that the state trooper had no reasonable basis to stop him without first confirming that he did not use a hand signal instead of the vehicle’s turn signal. The Supreme Court found Defendant correctly observed that 23 V.S.A. 1064(a) unambiguously allowed a driver to discharge the responsibility to signal a turn by using a hand signal rather than a mechanical or lighting signal. "But this does not mean that a law enforcement officer who is unable to see a hand signal even if one is given—whether due to darkness, weather conditions, or vantage point relative to the vehicle in question—may never form a reasonable suspicion that section 1064(a) has been violated. ... It follows that, where an officer suspects that a driver failed to signal a turn, but is unable to confirm or rule out the use of a hand signal, the officer may nonetheless have reasonable suspicion of a failure to signal sufficient to stop the car to further investigate the suspected traffic violation." View "Vermont v. Brunetta" on Justia Law