State v. Fox

Decision Date01 March 1961
Docket NumberNo. 190,190
PartiesSTATE of Vermont v. Irene S. FOX.
CourtVermont Supreme Court

Margaret Lillie, State's Atty., Bennington, for plaintiff.

Jones, Ehrich & Dollard, Bennington, for defendant.


HOLDEN, Justice.

The respondent Irene S. Fox has entered a plea of not guilty in the Bennington Municipal Court to an information there filed, charging her with the offense of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. Before trial the respondent requested the court to order the State to produce and permit inspection and copy of an accident report on file with the Department of Public Safety. It appears from the affidavit which accompanies the motion that the accident which is the subject of the requested report prompted the present criminal proceeding. The report was prepared and filed by the state police officer who investigated the accident. It is said to record what the officer then observed and to form the basis of such testimony as he may give at the trial. The motion to compel production was denied. The trial court granted permission to the respondent to appeal before final judgment as provided in 12 V.S.A. § 2386.

The record certified discloses that the respondent had previously sought to obtain a photostatic copy of the accident report from the Department of Public Safety under the provisions of 20 V.S.A. § 1815. Apparently the request was denied but whether the report was properly withheld under this statute has not been made an issue of this appeal.

Furthermore, the respondent is well aware of her right to invoke the court's discretion to examine the report at the trial under the recent holding in State v. Lavallee, 122 Vt. 75, 80, 163 A.2d 856, 859. But production is sought in advance of trial. Her request to this end places determinant reliance on the discovery procedure provided in 12 V.S.A. § 1262. The single question then, is whether this statute furnishes authority to the court in a criminal action to order production, inspection and photographing of documents or other things in the possession of the State, prior to trial.

The statute provides: 'Upon motion of any party showing good cause therefor and upon notice to all other parties and the person having custody, possession or control, the court in which an action is pending may: (1) order any person to produce and permit the inspection and copying or photographing, by or on behalf of the moving party, of any designated documents, papers, books, accounts, letters, photographs, objects, or tangible things, not privileged, which are in his possession, custody or control; and which constitute or contain evidence relating to any of the matters within the scope of the examination permitted by sections 1232 and 1261 of this title, and (2) order any person to permit entry upon designated land or other property in his possession or control for the purpose of inspecting, measuring, surveying, or photographing the property or any designated object or operation thereon for any purpose within the scope of examination permitted by sections 1232 and 1261 of this title. The order shall specify the time, place and manner of making the inspection and taking the copies and photographs and may prescribe such terms and conditions as are just.' 12 V.S.A. § 1262 (1959 Cum'l Pocket Supp.) This statute came into our judicial procedure as section 36 of No. 261 of the Acts of 1959. The reference in the context to section 1232 'of this title' is to an earlier provision of Title 12 which originated in the 1957 enactment relating to the scope of inquiry on discovery by deposition. 1957, No. 217, § 2.

It was in this way that the original discovery procedure by pre-trial deposition, enacted in 1957, was enlarged to include discovery by production and inspection. The amendment was accomplished as a part of the comprehensive procedural revision of 1959.

The earlier legislation of 1957, relating to depositions was before this Court in Reed v. Allen, 121 Vt. 202, 153 A.2d 74, 73 A.L.R.2d 1161. The question presented was akin to the issue here; namely, whether the procedure for pre-trial depositions applied to criminal proceedings. The Court held that it was not the intention of the Legislature to extend the discovery process by deposition to criminal causes. Reed v. Allen, supra, 121 Vt. at pages 205 and 208, 153 A.2d at pages 76 and 78.

The respondent contends the decision in Reed v. Allen does not control the disposition of her motion and assigns two reasons. First, it is pointed out that this decision involved construction of the Acts of 1957, whereas her request is based upon the Acts of 1959. Secondly, it is urged that an expansive construction was rejected in the Reed case because of the 'radical upheaval' which the Court felt might result while the construction advanced for the later enactment involves no such consequences. The contention is that the production and inspection procedure, being under the control of the trial judge, will adequately protect the interests of the State, and those of the respondent will be better served by extending the process to the criminal courts.

The argument is not new and the battle lines have been closely drawn. The outcome must turn on whether the statute has indeed confided a new power of inspection before trial in criminal causes, which, up to now, has been withheld. See People ex rel. Lemon v. Supreme Court, 245 N.Y. 24, 156 N.E. 84, 52 A.L.R. 200, 205 (opinion by Cardozo, Ch. J.); 6 Wigmore, Evidence, 3rd Ed. §§ 1859g, 1863, pp. 475, 487. The intention of the Legislature in this regard constitutes the law. Coral Gables, Inc. v. Christopher, 108 Vt. 414, 418, 189 A. 147, 109 A.L.R. 474; Smith & Son, Inc. v. Town of Hartford, 109 Vt. 326, 330, 196 A. 281; State Highway Board v. Gates, 110 Vt. 67, 73, 1 A.2d 825; Conn v. Town of Brattleboro, 120 Vt. 315, 320, 140 A.2d 6. The master rule of statutory construction is that the courts shall find the legislative purpose and give it effect. Simonds v. Estate of Powers, 28 Vt. 354, 355; Davidson v. Davidson, 111 Vt. 24, 27, 9 A.2d 114; Reed v. Allen, supra, 121 Vt. at page 206, 153 A.2d at page 76.

The respondent would find a broader legislative purpose in the statutory procedure for production and inspection of documents than prevailed in the enactment of the procedure for taking depositions before trial. It is argued that the two enabling statutes are not in pari materia.

Although the products of two different sessions of the General Assembly, the two procedures have a common parenthood in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A. The source of the 1957 act for taking despositions is Rule 26; the source of the production and inspection provisions of 1959 is Rule 34. Both enactments relate to the discovery of relevant evidence with the object of narrowing the issues, eliminating strategic surprise and aiding the parties in the interrogation of witnesses at the trial. Barron and Holtzoff, Federal Practice and Procedure, Rules Ed. Vol. 2 §§ 641, 791, pp. 263, 484.

In our practice, the earlier e...

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  • In re Mayo
    • United States
    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Vermont
    • 23 Marzo 1990
    ...intended VDCC to obtain a license to lend money. We are not at liberty to supply what the lawmakers have omitted. State v. Fox, 122 Vt. 251, 255, 169 A.2d 356 (1961). In re Burke Mountain Recreation, Inc., supra, 64 B.R. at 802 (brackets supplied for From the evidence, we know BWAC provided......
  • State v. Lund, 82-047
    • United States
    • Vermont Supreme Court
    • 3 Febrero 1984
    ...140 Vt. 501, 511, 438 A.2d 1135, 1140 (1981). It is the intent of the legislature which constitutes the law. State v. Fox, 122 Vt. 251, 254, 169 A.2d 356, 358 (1961). Therefore, this Court is required to consider not only the letter of the law, but more importantly, its reason and spirit. S......
  • In re Henry
    • United States
    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Vermont
    • 2 Octubre 1991 supply what the lawmakers have omitted. In re Burke Mountain Recreation, Inc., supra, 64 B.R. at 802, citing State v. Fox, 122 Vt. 251, 255, 169 A.2d 356 (1961). We agree with Vermont that there is no ambiguity with regard to the application of the land gains statute in this case. The st......
  • In re Burke Mountain Recreation, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Vermont
    • 12 Septiembre 1986
    ...intended VDCC to obtain a license to lend money. We are not at liberty to supply what the lawmakers have omitted. State v. Fox, 122 Vt. 251, 255, 169 A.2d 356 (1961). VDCC first argues that a Vermont Court has already decided the legal issue in this case. We disagree. Although a Federal Cou......
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