In re Crannell, No. 11–039.

Docket NºNo. 11–039.
Citation2012 VT 85, 60 A.3d 632
Case DateOctober 19, 2012
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

60 A.3d 632
2012 VT 85

In re Charles CRANNELL.

No. 11–039.

Supreme Court of Vermont.

Oct. 19, 2012.


[60 A.3d 633]


Charles Crannell, Pro Se, Beattyville, Kentucky, Petitioner–Appellant.

Ross Feldmann of Gravel and Shea, A Professional Corporation, Burlington, Amicus Curiae for Petitioner.


Matthew F. Valerio, Defender General, Anna Saxman, Deputy Defender General, and Dawn Matthews, Prisoners' Rights Office, Montpelier, for Amicus Curiae Office of the Defender General.

Present: REIBER, C.J., DOOLEY, SKOGLUND, BURGESS and ROBINSON, JJ.

BURGESS, J.

¶ 1. Appellant Charles Crannell appeals the decision of the Rutland Civil Division that he is no longer entitled to an appointed attorney to handle his post-conviction relief (PCR) proceedings. Appellant's previously assigned counsel filed a notice of withdrawal under 13 V.S.A. § 5233(a)(3), based on lack of legal merit in the PCR, a withdrawal which must be honored under In re Bailey, 2009 VT 122, 187 Vt. 176, 992 A.2d 276.Bailey held that, pursuant to an amendment to the statute, upon the Defender General's determination that a PCR claim was frivolous for lack of merit, a petitioner had no statutory right to assigned counsel at public expense. Id. ¶¶ 14–17. Appellant first argues that, having filed his PCR petition before the Legislature enacted the amended version of § 5233 that was interpreted in Bailey, he has a vested right to counsel under the pre-amendment version of the statute and this Court's earlier decision in In re Gould, 2004 VT 46, 177 Vt. 7, 852 A.2d 632,superseded by statute,13 V.S.A. § 5233(a). Gould interpreted the prior version of § 5233 to entitle PCR petitioners to publically assigned counsel regardless of the petition's merit. Id. ¶¶ 19–21.

¶ 2. Assuming that Bailey and the current § 5233 do control, appellant alternatively claims that the Defender General's Office waived its right to withdraw because it represented him in his PCR proceedings for nine years before seeking to do so. Finally, assuming the same, appellant asserts that because counsel is necessary for effective advocacy in PCR proceedings at the trial court level, this Court should read § 5233 to provide a right to assigned representation in such proceedings. Petitioner is correct that the old version of § 5233, as interpreted by Gould, still governs his right to assigned PCR counsel and grants him a statutory right to representation at his own, rather than the Defender General's, discretion. Accordingly, we reverse and remand.

¶ 3. Appellant was convicted of first-degree murder in 1995. His conviction was

[60 A.3d 634]

affirmed on direct appeal, and in 2001 he filed a PCR petition in Rutland Superior Court citing numerous grounds for relief, including the violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutorial misconduct and the violation of his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. For close to the next nine years, appellant was represented by many different assigned counsels, through both the Defender General's Prisoners' Rights Office and through the Defender General's independent contractor system of assigned conflict counsel.

¶ 4. Throughout his PCR proceedings, appellant's representation sparked a series of skirmishes where appellant's various attorneys were either withdrawing or being replaced due to ethical conflicts or other reasons. 1 In April 2010, appellant's latest lawyer from the Prisoners' Rights Office filed a motion to withdraw under the current § 5233 based on the Defender General's Office's determination that appellant's PCR petition no longer raised any nonfrivolous bases for relief. The trial court, citing Bailey, granted the motion and ordered that the case proceed on the merits with appellant representing himself. The court then granted permission for petitioner to file an interlocutory appeal, which this Court accepted.

¶ 5. Appellant's main argument, offered by amicus curiae, is that he has a vested right to representation in his PCR proceedings under the former version of § 5233, as applied by Gould. The Defender General's Office responds that the current § 5233, as interpreted by Bailey, controls, under which appellant's right to representation is subject to the Defender General's sole discretion. Which version of § 5233 governs this case, and by consequence whether appellant has an ongoing right to representation in his PCR proceedings, is a question de novo for this Court. See Breslin v. Synnott, 2012 VT 57, ¶ 8, 192 Vt. ––––, 54 A.3d 525 (“We review questions of law ... de novo.”). We hold that the earlier version of § 5233 applies, by which appellant has a continued right to representation, the merits of the case aside, as explained in Gould. We remand this case for a consideration of appellant's counsel's motion to withdraw consistent with Gould and the principles set forth below.2

¶ 6. At the time appellant filed his PCR motion in 2001, § 5233 entitled a needy person convicted of a serious crime to representation “in any ... post-conviction proceeding that the attorney or the needy person considers appropriate.” 13 V.S.A. § 5233(a)(3) (1998) (emphasis added), subsequently amended by 2003, No. 157 (Adj.Sess.), § 10. Gould held that this version of § 5233 provided a statutory

[60 A.3d 635]

right of representation simply requiring courts to appoint counsel for indigent PCR petitioners upon their request. 2004 VT 46, ¶¶ 13–14, 177 Vt. 7, 852 A.2d 632. The merit or frivolity of the case mattered not. See id. ¶ 20.

¶ 7. Following the 2004 decision in Gould, the Legislature amended § 5233 to limit indigents' right to representation in PCR proceedings to

proceeding[s] which may have more than a minimal effect on the length or conditions of detention where the attorney considers the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions to be warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law or the establishment of new law.

13 V.S.A. § 5233(a)(3) (emphasis added). As Bailey explained, the amendment to § 5233 “expressly conditions a[PCR] petitioner's entitlement to representation on counsel's assessment of the merit of the legal action.” 2009 VT 122, ¶ 8, 187 Vt. 176, 992 A.2d 276.


¶ 8. When appellant filed his PCR petition in 2001, however, he had an unconditional right to representation under the then-existing § 5233. Gould, 2004 VT 46, ¶ 16, 177 Vt. 7, 852 A.2d 632. Under 1 V.S.A. § 214(a)(4), amendment of a statute has no effect on “any right, privilege, obligation or liability acquired, incurred or accrued under the amended [statute] ... prior to the effective date of the amendment.” In other words, the amendment of a statute cannot retrospectively strip a person of a right enjoyed under the prior version of the statute. Applying § 214 here, appellant's right to representation under the former § 5233 vested, and remained vested, after the statute was amended in 2004. We therefore reverse the trial court's decision granting appellant's counsel's motion to withdraw under Bailey and ordering him to proceed pro se in his PCR proceedings. 3

¶ 9. The Defender General objects to this conclusion, arguing that appellant had no right to representation under § 5233 as determined in Gould, because the mandate of Gould did not take effect until after the Legislature's amendment to that section eliminating the vested right to counsel. As the Defender General points out, the opinion in Gould was filed on June 4, 2004, and under Vermont Rule of Appellate Procedure 41(a) an opinion's mandate takes effect twenty-one days after the entry of judgment. The amendment of § 5233 was signed on June 8, 2004, and was effective upon passage. 2003, No. 157 (Adj.Sess.), § 10. Thus, contends the Defender General, appellant's broad statutory right to counsel expired before its application under Gould could take effect.

¶ 10. Even if the Defender General's calculation is correct, there was no race, in law, between the amendment's date and the Gould mandate. The right to counsel vested by the prior version of § 5233 was not newly discovered in Gould, but was rooted in the language of the statute. The same § 5233 was in effect when appellant first filed his PCR, and under which statute he was then entitled to appointed counsel as he “consider[ed] appropriate” notwithstanding an opinion to the contrary from the appointing authority,

[60 A.3d 636]

the Defender General. 13 V.S.A. § 5233(a) (1998), subsequently amended by 2003, No. 157 (Adj.Sess.), § 10. Any difference between the date of amendment and the mandate of Gould is of no moment, since appellant's right to counsel is governed by the statute in effect when the PCR was filed. Gould confirmed, but did not create, the right to counsel already in place as then written by the Legislature.4

Reversed and remanded.

DOOLEY, J., concurring.

¶ 11. While I agree that we must reverse the decision to deny appellant counsel and agree that the version of 13 V.S.A. § 5233 in effect when appellant filed his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) controls, I would reverse on another ground. In my view, the Defender General waived his ability to claim the unreviewable right to label this case as frivolous by the actions and inactions that occurred during the nine years the PCR case was pending and the Defender General was under court orders to provide representation or fund its provision. On this point, I reiterate some of my dissenting opinion in In re Bailey, 2009 VT 122, 187 Vt. 176, 992 A.2d 276, in this much more extreme case. The majority in Bailey avoided this issue because it was “not asked to decide if Attorney Fulcher waived her right to withdraw.” 5Id. ¶ 17. Here, it is directly raised both by appellant and by amicus curiae.

¶ 12. We are a judicial system that highly values expeditious resolution of cases presented to us. Ninety-one percent of civil cases in Vermont are disposed of within two years; in Rutland County where this...

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5 practice notes
  • State v. Johnstone, No. 11–246.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • August 2, 2013
    ...law the State's allegations were sufficient to support a prima facie case of a violation of Condition M—de novo. See In re Crannell, 2012 VT 85, ¶ 5, 192 Vt. 406, 60 A.3d 632 (reiterating that application of governing legal standard is nondeferential question for this court). ¶ 15. In Sanvi......
  • In re K.F., No. 12–340.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • June 26, 2013
    ...no factual development. But many are not. Last year, we saw one that had remained in the superior court for nine years, see In re Crannell, 2012 VT 85, 192 Vt. 406, 60 A.3d 632, and never moved beyond disputes over whether the petitioner would receive appointed [72 A.3d 918]counsel in the P......
  • In re Bruyette, No. 12–471.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • April 25, 2014
    ...version of the statute to apply, petitioner must have filed this PCR petition prior to the 2004 amendment date. See In re Crannell, 2012 VT 85, ¶ 6, 192 Vt. 406, 60 A.3d 632. Petitioner filed his current PCR petition in 2012. Although he contends this PCR petition “comes from ... PCR procee......
  • In re Kimmick, No. 11–378.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • June 21, 2013
    ...I agree that the grounds for applying waiver to this case are also weak. We need only compare the events here to those in In re Crannell, 2012 VT 85, 192 Vt. 406, 60 A.3d 632, where nine years expired while the Defender General reviewed petitioner's entitlement to counsel and found entitlem......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 cases
  • State v. Johnstone, No. 11–246.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • August 2, 2013
    ...law the State's allegations were sufficient to support a prima facie case of a violation of Condition M—de novo. See In re Crannell, 2012 VT 85, ¶ 5, 192 Vt. 406, 60 A.3d 632 (reiterating that application of governing legal standard is nondeferential question for this court). ¶ 15. In Sanvi......
  • In re K.F., No. 12–340.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • June 26, 2013
    ...no factual development. But many are not. Last year, we saw one that had remained in the superior court for nine years, see In re Crannell, 2012 VT 85, 192 Vt. 406, 60 A.3d 632, and never moved beyond disputes over whether the petitioner would receive appointed [72 A.3d 918]counsel in the P......
  • In re Bruyette, No. 12–471.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • April 25, 2014
    ...version of the statute to apply, petitioner must have filed this PCR petition prior to the 2004 amendment date. See In re Crannell, 2012 VT 85, ¶ 6, 192 Vt. 406, 60 A.3d 632. Petitioner filed his current PCR petition in 2012. Although he contends this PCR petition “comes from ... PCR procee......
  • In re Kimmick, No. 11–378.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • June 21, 2013
    ...I agree that the grounds for applying waiver to this case are also weak. We need only compare the events here to those in In re Crannell, 2012 VT 85, 192 Vt. 406, 60 A.3d 632, where nine years expired while the Defender General reviewed petitioner's entitlement to counsel and found entitlem......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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