Ladabouche v. Walton, 88-090

Decision Date28 July 1989
Docket NumberNo. 88-090,88-090
Citation565 A.2d 1324,152 Vt. 224
PartiesGeorge LADABOUCHE v. James WALTON, Jr., Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Corrections.
CourtVermont Supreme Court

Zuccaro, Willis & Bent, St. Johnsbury, for plaintiff-appellant.

William Sorrell, Chittenden County State's Atty., John Churchill, Deputy State's Atty., Burlington, and Robert W. Katims, Law Clerk, Dept. of State's Attys., Montpelier, for defendant-appellee.

Before ALLEN, C.J., and PECK, GIBSON, DOOLEY and MORSE, JJ.

GIBSON, Justice.

Petitioner appeals from the superior court's denial of his petitions for post-conviction relief and for a writ of habeas corpus. We affirm.

Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder on November 4, 1983, following a jury trial. He appealed to this Court, and we affirmed. State v. Ladabouche, 146 Vt. 279, 502 A.2d 852 (1985) ("Ladabouche I "). A significant portion of the State's case consisted of the testimony of John Savo, Sr., an alleged accomplice in the crime, who had received immunity from the State on an accessory charge in exchange for his testimony, which immunity agreement was disclosed to the jury. Following Savo's direct testimony, petitioner's counsel cross-examined him for two days, noting what he regarded as numerous discrepancies in the testimony. At its completion, the trial judge expressed concern about the truthfulness of Savo's testimony and stated on the record, but with the jury absent, that he was ordering a transcript of the testimony, together with Savo's inquest and deposition testimony, forwarded to the Vermont Attorney General's Office for "appropriate investigation and action." Petitioner moved for a judgment of acquittal at the close of the State's case and also moved under V.R.E. 601(b)(2) to strike the testimony of Savo as a person incapable of understanding the duty of a witness to tell the truth. Both defense motions were denied.

Following the guilty verdict, petitioner renewed his motions to strike the Savo testimony and for acquittal, and moved in the alternative for a new trial. Upon denial of these motions, petitioner undertook an appeal to this Court (Ladabouche I ), raising the issues of whether "the trial court abused its discretion in not granting a new trial where the chief prosecution witness allegedly committed perjury, and in refusing to hold an evidentiary hearing on the issue," 146 Vt. at 280, 502 A.2d at 854, and whether "the trial court applied an incorrect standard in denying his motion for a new trial." Id. at 283, 502 A.2d at 855.

Though petitioner appeared to have waived the claim of prosecutorial misconduct in his new trial motion, we nevertheless considered that argument, observing:

A conviction obtained through the use of false evidence, known to be such by the State, and either solicited by the State or allowed to go uncorrected, violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. If such an error occurred, it was plain error.

Id. at 281, 502 A.2d at 854 (citation omitted). It should be noted, however, that a ground which petitioner did raise in his motion for a new trial, the denial of his motion to strike under V.R.E. 601(b)(2), was not raised on appeal. We affirmed petitioner's conviction, and the heart of our rationale in Ladabouche I is pertinent to the present petition for post-conviction relief:

The State's chief witness [Savo] was exhaustively cross-examined concerning his prior inconsistent statements under oath. His credibility was severely tested, yet, "[d]espite what it heard, the jury saw fit to convict." The trial court did not err in refusing a new trial due to prosecutorial misconduct.

The defendant has not only failed to show a knowing use of perjured testimony, he has failed to show how he was prejudiced. The entire basis of the defendant's claim, the prior inconsistent testimony, was before the jury. Even had the State sought to conceal the inconsistent testimony, which it did not, the airing of the inconsistencies would have obviated any prejudice....

146 Vt. at 282-83, 502 A.2d at 855 (citation omitted). Our emphasis in Ladabouche I on the jury's awareness of Savo's inconsistent statements was underscored by our reliance on United States v. Acosta, 526 F.2d 670, 674 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 426 U.S. 920, 96 S.Ct. 2625, 49 L.Ed.2d 373 (1976), where the court stated:

The appellees have shown no reversible prejudice. On the contrary, they had the benefit of repeatedly catching the prosecution in highly embarrassing positions as to the credibility of its witness.

See 146 Vt. at 283, 502 A.2d at 855.

We filed our decision in Ladabouche I on September 6, 1985. On October 31, 1985, the Office of the Attorney General advised the trial judge that upon investigation there was no probable cause to prosecute witness Savo for perjury. On April 23, 1986, petitioner brought his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, and on or about March 25, 1987, he filed a petition for post-conviction relief and for habeas corpus, raising as grounds the denial of the motion to strike under V.R.E. 601(b)(2) and the prejudicial delay by the Attorney General in the investigation of Savo's testimony at the behest of the trial judge. The superior court denied the petitions, ruling that the V.R.E. 601(b)(2) question had not been raised in the direct appeal and hence was waived, and that petitioner both lacked standing to raise the delay issue and failed to show prejudice. The superior court nevertheless went on to consider the merits of the motion-to-strike issue and found that petitioner had not sustained his burden of showing an abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court. The present appeal followed, petitioner contending herein that the court erred in its rulings relating to V.R.E. 601(b)(2).

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3 cases
  • In re Carter
    • United States
    • Vermont Supreme Court
    • February 27, 2004
    ...general principle), the issues involved were preserved for appeal in the criminal court, but not appealed. See Ladabouche v. Walton, 152 Vt. 224, 226, 565 A.2d 1324, 1325 (1989) (in post-conviction relief proceeding, petitioner challenged failure to strike testimony in response to his motio......
  • In re Carter
    • United States
    • Vermont Supreme Court
    • February 27, 2004
    ...general principle), the issues involved were preserved for appeal in the criminal court, but not appealed. See Ladabouche v. Walton, 152 Vt. 224, 226, 565 A.2d 1324, 1325 (1989) (in post-conviction relief proceeding, petitioner challenged failure to strike testimony in response to his motio......
  • In re Carter, 2004 VT 21 (Vt. 2/27/2004)
    • United States
    • Vermont Supreme Court
    • February 27, 2004
    ...same general principle), the issues involved were preserved for appeal in the criminal court, but not appealed. See Ladabouche v. Walton, 152 Vt. 224, 226, 565 A.2d 1324, 1325 (1989) (in post-conviction relief proceeding, petitioner challenged failure to strike testimony in response to his ......

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