2015 VT 143 (mem.)
By Amy Davis
Here we are in the depths of bail troubles again. We’ve probably had more segments on bail than there are Harry Potter movies. We’ll call this one: Bail Problems & The Order of the SCOV. In this case, trial court denies bail to defendant in December 2014, and then denies home detention in October 2015.
Back in July 2014, the State charged defendant with second-degree murder. Defendant was arraigned and held without bail. The medical examiner opined that, while in defendant’s care, alleged victim A.H. died as a result of blunt impact injury to his head. Defendant admitted injuries, but gave some inconsistent statements on their cause—none of the stories explaining these types of injuries.
Another autopsy showed that A.H. got the injuries “days to weeks” prior to his death. However, the medical examiner could not determine if the injuries happened in one or multiple events, so the State filed a motion to review bail and probable cause. The trial court held that probable cause still existed even though it was “literally paper thin” and found that the State probably wouldn’t survive a motion to dismiss under 12(d). Based on the weak case, the court set bail at $25,000 and imposed conditions of release.
Defendant then filed a motion to dismiss, but the State had dug up new evidence and filed a motion to hold without bail. At an evidentiary hearing on both motions (along with some other motions), the State presented testimony that A.H. received the fatal injury the morning of his death. The trial court denied defendant’s motion to dismiss, and—after a continuance on the State’s motion—denied bail on the record. The court found that the evidence of guilt was great, and pointed out the seriousness of the offense and risk of flight.
Defendant asked for home detention about nine months later, which the court denied. For home detention, the defendant must overcome a presumption for incarceration. In weighing the three factors under the home-detention statute, the trial court noted the following not in his favor: second-degree murder is serious; there was evidence of prior abuse of A.H.; defendant had non-violent convictions; defendant had a poor disciplinary history while incarcerated; defendant also had some failures to appear, and some flight risks. Defendant had some good points too, including no other serious felony convictions and a prior satisfactory residence with his cousin. But this was not enough to outweigh the factors weighing against home detention.
Defendant appeals both the bail denial and the home-detention denial. On the bail argument, defendant argues that the trial court did not have the jurisdiction to revoke the original bail order of $25,000 and conditions. Defendant argues that once bail was granted, the State could only use one of two procedures: revocation of bail or appeal of the bail. For home detention, defendant asserts abuse of discretion.
The SCOV notes that under the bail-in-potential-life-imprisonment-cases statute, a trial court has “great discretion” to grant or deny bail as long as defendant has an opportunity to be heard. The SCOV finds that defendant had amble opportunity to be heard on both motions. Furthermore, the trial court “engaged in the exact examination of evidence” that the statute requires.
In regards to home detention, the trial court’s discretion is more limited, and considering whether home detention is appropriate, the court must weigh certain factors. The presumption for incarceration applies, and defendant has the burden to show home detention would be appropriate.
The SCOV concludes there was no abuse of discretion, noting that the trial court found factors that weighed in favor of and against home detention before finding that home detention could not adequately protect the public.
The SCOV goes one step further, and notes defendant’s argument that the court erred under State v. Whiteway. The SCOV promptly dismisses this argument, reasoning that the same concerns in Whiteway are not present in this case. Thus, defendant stays incarcerated.