Sunday, May 11, 2014

Fuller Factual Findings

State v. Whiteway, 2014 VT 49 (mem.)

By Andrew Delaney

It might seem like we wrote about this case last week because . . . we wrote about this case last week. To be fair, the SCOV handed that decision down a little under a month before the current one. (Hey—we’re a little behind here.)

If you recall that decision, the SCOV reversed the trial court’s denial of defendant’s home-detention motion because the court really honed in on the fact that defendant’s charged with second-degree murder and didn’t appear to consider the other requisite factors in deciding the motion.

So, the case goes back to the trial court, the trial court reconsiders the motion, and the trial court again denies the motion. As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” 

Except it’s not—well, not really. This time, the trial court appears to have considered the requisite factors and the SCOV affirms.

The pretrial home detention statute provides three areas for a trial court to consider in determining whether to grant a home-detention motion: (1) the offense’s nature; (2) prior convictions, history of violence, medical and mental health needs, supervision history, and risk of flight; and (3) risks or undue burdens associated with the placement.

As before, the trial court found the offense serious and violent, and noted that the underlying crime is the killing of a former romantic partner. Defendant has one DUI but no history of violence. She hasn’t failed to appear in court, and doesn’t appear to have any unmet medical or mental health needs. Nonetheless, the trial court noted that the offense’s potential penalty increases the risk of flight. On the final factor, the trial court found that defendant poses a serious risk to the “other woman”—when defendant allegedly killed her former partner, the other woman was present, defendant assaulted her, and the other woman is an eyewitness. Thus, the trial court again denied the motion—not because defendant poses a risk to the general public, but because she poses a serious risk to the other woman. The trial court based its reasoning in part on the limitations on DOC supervision inherent to the program.

Defendant appeals, arguing that the trial court’s risk-to-the-other-woman and DOC-supervision-limitations determinations weren’t supported by the evidence or specific to her.

The SCOV notes that it’s an abuse-of-discretion standard and there’s an incarceration presumption due to the potential for life imprisonment. Because of that, the burden is on defendant to show that home detention is appropriate.

The SCOV concludes that the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion. Regarding the risk-to-the-other-woman argument, the SCOV notes that the other woman had just started living with the victim and the killing is alleged to have been motivated by the breakdown of defendant’s and victim’s relationship. Defendant allegedly assaulted the other woman at the scene and had to be pulled off her.

The SCOV also rejects the DOC-supervision-limitations argument. While it was error in the first decision for the trial court to speculate that defendant might cut off the monitoring bracelet with common household scissors and run off to Antigua, it’s not an abuse of discretion for the trial court to consider DOC’s limitations in relation to the safety of the public, third parties, and managing flight risk.

Thus, the SCOV concludes, the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion.

The SCOV giveth hope and the SCOV taketh away.

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