Friday, October 7, 2011

Make It So


State v. F.M., 2011 VT 100 (mem.)

Although today’s case is remanded to the trial court, the SCOV breaks the fourth wall and notes that it actually directed toward the court administrator.  At issue is a charge against Defendant that was subject to expungement upon Defendant's successful completion of probation. 


Defendant was arrested and charged with four counts, including reckless endangerment.  In a plea agreement with the State’s Attorney, Defendant plead guilty to the second charge of reckless endangerment, and the other three charges were dismissed.  Defendant was also offered the opportunity to complete a mental health assessment program, which if completed successfully, would lead to the dismissal and expungement of the only remaining charge.  Defendant agreed, followed the rules, and fulfilled his obligations.  Upon completion, Defendant made a motion to the trial court to expunge—remove—his sole conviction from the record along with the other three charges that had been dismissed.  The trial court accepted the motion, and changed the notation in the court records to expunged. 

Problem is the records remained.  They were expunged for all technical purposes, but if you look up Defendant’s criminal record you will see a list of four charges.  All of them say expunged, but that kind of defeats the point. You should not find anything because they have been expunged.  

Defendant brought this issue to the trial court’s attention and requested further action.  His motion was denied for that most common of modern reasons: the judiciary’s computer system did not allow a complete expungement.  So too bad say the trial court, you have gotten everything you are going to get.

On appeal, the SCOV will give no quarter to technical issues.  The SCOV agrees with Defendant and orders the case remanded with the order that the trial court and the court administrator figure out a way to expunge Defendant’s record.  Given that the trial court is probably not in a position to change the judiciary’s computer system, the SCOV’s message is explicitly directed to the court administrator.  

The SCOV does not care how it happens; so long as it does.  Justice demands; so the system must follow.  Kind of like the way warp engines work.  

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