Sunday, November 5, 2017

You Can’t Go Home Again

This puppy is unbearably cute. It has
nothing to do with the story.
State v. Shores, 2017 VT 102 (mem.)

By Andrew Delaney

Thomas Wolfe’s posthumous novel of the same title as this post is 743 pages long. So don’t say we never taught you anything. I really wanted to put "nothin" at the end of the last sentence but that would be a double negative and double negatives, sadly, are wrong—even if they sound way more entertaining than proper English. 

In February, Ms. Shores was charged with second-degree murder and held without bail pending a weight-of-the-evidence hearing. After the hearing, Ms. Shores was continued held without bail, she appealed, and SCOV affirmed. Allegedly, this is in a published entry order. Guess where it’s not? On the judiciary website.

Ms. Shores filed a motion for home detention. It was denied after a hearing and she didn’t appeal. A few months later, she filed a second motion for home detention. There was another hearing, an agreement that the evidence from the prior hearing could be factored in, some more testimony, and some agreed-to proffer from a Trooper, though it’s not clear what it was. The court issued a written decision denying the motion.

The home detention statute requires trial courts to consider three factors: (1) the nature of the offense; (2) prior convictions, history of violence, medical and mental health needs, history of supervision, and risk of flight; and (3) any risk or undue burden to proposed roomies, third parties, or to public safety.

The trial court relied heavily on the evidence from the first hearing in denying the second motion. First, the trial court reasoned that second-degree murder is a heavy-duty offense and that the available evidence tended to show that Ms. Shores shot her husband while standing above him on some stairs. There was no evidence of a confrontation, heat of passion, self-defense, or an accident. So, the court reasoned that factor one favored denying the motion.

Ms. Shores has a 1996 conviction for assault. The court weighed this somewhat heavily. Though Ms. Shores “medical and mental health needs, history of supervision, and risk of flight, weighed in the favor of granting home detention,” the trial court found that the ’96 assault on two people (one a law-enforcement officer) pushed factor two into the deny-the-motion column.

The trial court also found that the third factor went in the deny-the-motion column. Although the proposed housing met DOC criteria for home confinement, the trial court reasoned that given the distance from the closest DOC office and state police barracks, the proposed placement would pose a risk to public safety. And so, the trial court denied the motion and Ms. Shore appeals.

We’re in abuse-of-discretion territory here. The trial court’s decision has to be rooted in the statutory factors, but the trial court’s decision only need be reasonable—and that’s a danged broad brush at times. In this context—where the crime is punishable by life imprisonment—the presumption in favor of bail is flipped and incarceration becomes the status quo. A defendant has the burden of proving home detention is appropriate.

Ms. Shore argues that the trial court’s decision—especially on the third factor—was really more a “direct criticism of the home detention program” and not an analysis specific to her as required by prior SCOV product. SCOV disagrees. It reasons that the trial court considered factors specific to Ms. Shores and while Ms. Shores may disagree with the trial court’s analysis, that doesn’t mean that the trial court abused its discretion.

It wasn’t just the nature of the current offense, but a prior conviction that went into the trial court’s analysis of the second factor.

SCOV notes that its role isn’t to second guess the trial court on fact-finding and discretion. The trial court made the required findings and concluded that Ms. Shores just didn’t meet her burden. And that’s good enough for SCOV.

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