Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bibliophile Learns Crime—or at Least an Artful Plea—Does Pay


State v. Baker, 2010 VT 109 (mem.).

            Let us, like the SCOV, make this short and sweet.  Defendant was arrested as a result of a prescription drug fueled rampage and faced nine criminal counts that included prescription fraud, obstruction of justice, violation of an abuse prevention order, and burglary.  The last was for stealing a laptop from the Fletcher Free Library with keys he had got hold of when he was employed there. 

            Obviously, he did not spend a lot of time in the mystery section planning the perfect crime.  But he did spend some time in reference learning to parse the logic of written words as the rest of the case demonstrates.

            Following the theft, the Library changed all of its locks at a cost of $620.67.  At trial, the State sought restitution on the burglary charge based on the lock replacement costs.  The State simultaneously negotiated and approved a plea agreement in which Defendant pled guilty to the three counts of prescription fraud in exchange for dismissal of the other charges.  Defendant signed an agreement outlining his probation terms and general restitution for “uninsured losses.”


            Standard language for any plea agreement, but see if you can spot the undistributed middle in the SCOV's syllogistic logic.  Ready? Now, mail your answer to SCOV Law, care of D.P. Richardson.  The answer should be written on the back of a check made out to CASH for $100.  The winner will be picked at random, but all entries will be deposited. 

The answer for those of you that you are playing at home is as follows:


Defendant must pay restitution on all crimes for which he is convicted.
The burglary charge was dismissed.
Therefore, Defendant must pay restitution on the burglary charge.


            Congratulations to Selma Hopkins of Vershire whose answer was not correct but was on the back of a $10,000 dollar bill (that would be former Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase on the front). 

            Well, you can see from this frippery that there simply is not much to discuss.  Trial Court faced with a signed plea agreement that discharged the burglary claim tried to piece together an argument as to why Captain Percocet should repay the good folks who bring us free books.  The SCOV, though, was in no mindset to make such allowance.  The charge was dismissed.  Therefore, the general language of the plea agreement could not wrangle in restitution outside the charges to which Defendant pled guilty.  State failed to include a more specific term, and contracts being contracts, the Defendant gets the benefit of his bargain. 

In the end, the SCOV even dismisses the trial court’s use of impossibility and mutual mistake to read the lock replacement restitution back into the agreement.  In reversing the trial court, the SCOV rules that it does not matter that the remaining charges had no restitution component.  It does not matter that without the lock restitution, the term is meaningless.  Unless, it is a specific or logically connected term, the SCOV will not read a plea agreement broadly against a Defendant who did not have notice of what the State later seeks to impose.  Impossibility and mutual mistake cases, therefore, are to be read against the State.  This makes sense since the State is probably the author of most if not all plea agreements.  In this light, the SCOV decision can be read as a warning to prosecutors: draft carefully because we will not pick up your messes.  Case is reversed and remanded.

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