Saturday, April 8, 2017

Prison Presumed

State v. Henault, 2017 VT 17 (mem.)

By Andrew Delaney

Mr. Henault was held without bail. He appeals.

He’s charged with four counts, including a sexual assault charge that carries a potential life sentence. 

There’s a general presumption that bail will be granted. But when a crime carries a potential life sentence and the State can show “great” (I’ve griped about this terminology before) evidence of guilt, that presumption gets flipped on its head, and the presumption is that the defendant will be held without bail. The trial court has discretion, however, to impose conditions of release and allow bail. In making that determination, the trial court can look at the nine factors listed in subsection b of this statute, though it’s not required to. This is because the statute, by its terms, applies only when there’s a constitutional right to bail.

Here, the SCOV notes that there’s a life sentence in play and Mr. Henault has conceded that the State has enough evidence to trigger the hold-without-bail presumption. The trial court reasoned that Mr. Henault was not bailable as a matter of right and then did a balancing test, weighing Mr. Henault’s length of time in the community, financial resources, lack of prior criminal record, and absence of any previous failures to appear in court against the seriousness of the charges, the nature and circumstances of the offense, and Mr. Henault’s character and mental condition. The trial court also noted that Mr. Henault had previously been on home detention and violated his conditions. In the end, the trial court held Mr. Henault without bail.

Mr. Henault appeals, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion by “triple counting” the weight of the State’s evidence and also by not giving sufficient weight to a witness’s testimony supporting Mr. Henault’s character and mental condition.

The SCOV is not convinced by either argument. On the undue-weight-to-the-“great”-evidence-of guilt pitch, defendant conceded it under the presumptive-bail analysis, so the SCOV sees no abuse of discretion when the trial court used that point in its balancing-of-the-factors analysis. Remember, the trial court doesn’t even really have to do that analysis—it simply can if it wants to.

And that brings us to the weight-of-the-testimony piece. The SCOV again points out that those factors can be useful for the trial court to consider, but they only apply when there’s a presumption in favor of bail. When the presumption is imprisonment, then the court can but doesn’t have to consider the 7554(b) factors. In the SCOV’s view, the trial court acted within its discretion. The SCOV points out that “the charges arise out of defendant’s conduct that occurred with respect to a former patient in therapy sessions,” reasoning that this involves both personal and professional misconduct, and reflects on Mr. Henault’s character.

And so, Mr. Henault will remain in State housing for the foreseeable future.

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