State v. Kuhlmann

Decision Date16 July 2021
Docket NumberNo. 19-237,19-237
Citation260 A.3d 1115
Parties STATE of Vermont v. Roy H. KUHLMANN
CourtVermont Supreme Court

Rosemary Kennedy, Rutland County State's Attorney, and Daron L. Raleigh and L. Raymond Sun, Deputy State's Attorneys, Rutland, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Matthew Valerio, Defender General, Joshua S. O'Hara, Appellate Defender, Montpelier, and Roy H. Kuhlmann, Pro Se, Newport, for Defendant-Appellant.

PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Robinson, Eaton, Carroll and Cohen, JJ.

EATON, J.

¶ 1. Defendant appeals his convictions by a jury of unlawful trespass of an occupied dwelling, obstruction of justice, and unlawful restraint. The unlawful-trespass and obstruction-of-justice charges were based on defendant's acts of entering complainant's residence, hiding under her bed to listen to her telephone calls, emerging from under the bed and frightening her, and then, when the state police later arrived, urging her to tell them that nothing was wrong. Defendant argues that there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction for trespassing because he had permission to enter the complainant's house. He claims that his statements in the presence of police were not threatening and were therefore insufficient to support the obstruction-of-justice charge. Finally, defendant challenges his conviction for unlawful restraint, which was based on an altercation that took place three months earlier during which he pushed the complainant onto her bed and held her down for five minutes. He contends that the restraint was merely incidental to the assault that preceded it and cannot support a separate conviction. We affirm the unlawful-restraint conviction, but reverse defendant's convictions for unlawful trespass and obstruction of justice because we agree that they are not supported by the record.

¶ 2. The State presented the following evidence at trial. Defendant and the complainant met through an online dating website in the spring of 2017. The complainant lived in Ira, Vermont, and defendant lived in upstate New York. During the early part of their relationship, the complainant traveled to New York to spend weekends with defendant. Later, she would travel to New York and bring defendant back to Vermont to stay in her home for several days at a time.

¶ 3. The complainant testified that as their relationship progressed, defendant became jealous and controlling. He told her that he had been cheated on before, that he had done "bad stuff" to his former girlfriends like "slapp[ing] them around" and pointing a gun at one of them, and that if he ever found her with someone, he would kill her and that person. In November 2017, while defendant was staying at the complainant's house, the two had an argument after the complainant noticed that defendant was talking to an ex-girlfriend. Defendant became upset and shoved the complainant down onto a bed. He then climbed on top of her and held her down on the bed for five minutes. While he was holding her down, he was yelling so loudly that spit came out of his mouth. When he eventually released her, she rolled off the bed, and he struck her hard on her buttocks. She testified she had handprint bruises on her forearms as a result of defendant pinning her to the bed, and that her buttocks hurt for several weeks afterward. The complainant drove defendant back to New York the next day. She obtained a relief-from-abuse order against defendant, which she later agreed to have dismissed.

¶ 4. Defendant subsequently apologized to the complainant and told her that he was seeking counseling. She agreed to resume their relationship. Defendant began staying at her house for multiple nights in a row. He typically remained in the house while the complainant was at work and had access to everything in the house. He did not have his own key to her house, but she allowed him to use a key that she kept on the headboard so he could get back in when he hitchhiked to the store. She testified that he did not have permission to go into her house without her knowledge. The complainant admitted during cross-examination that defendant came and went as he pleased when he stayed at her house, using the key to gain entry. She agreed that defendant had permission to be at her house when she was not there.

¶ 5. On February 22, 2018, the complainant dropped defendant off at the local Jiffy Mart on her way to work, with the understanding that he planned to hitchhike back to her house. He had been staying with her for about a week and had the key that she kept on her headboard in his possession. Around noon, however, defendant sent the complainant a text message stating that he was hitchhiking back to New York. He continued to text her throughout the day regarding his ostensible progress, finally stating that he was back at his camper and planned to go to sleep.

¶ 6. The complainant returned home after work that evening and entered the house, which was locked. She found a note on her bed from defendant stating that he had done the laundry, brought in wood, and left the key on the headboard. She sat on the bed and made some phone calls. After she hung up, defendant came out from underneath her bed. The complainant was terrified and ran toward the door. Defendant told her, "it's me," and the complainant stopped running. She asked him why he was hiding under the bed. He told her that he needed to see if she was going to bring someone else home after work. She called her daughter, who called the police.

¶ 7. The complainant testified that when the police arrived, defendant asked her to not open the door. She did so anyway, and defendant hid behind the door. The complainant indicated where he was to the police and ran outside. Defendant then came out and spoke with one of the officers. The complainant stated that defendant said to her, "Tell the troopers that nothing's going on, everything's okay. He loved me, not to do this, why was I doing this to him." The troopers subsequently arrested defendant and he was charged with unlawful trespass of an occupied dwelling, obstruction of justice, unlawful restraint, and three counts of domestic assault—two for pushing the complainant down on the bed and striking her buttocks in November 2017, and a third for putting her in fear of imminent serious bodily injury by emerging from under the bed in February 2018.

¶ 8. After the State presented testimony from the complainant, her children, and the responding officers, defendant moved for judgment of acquittal on the unlawful-trespass and obstruction-of-justice charges.1 The trial court denied defendant's motion. Defendant then testified. He said that he had caught the complainant sharing nude photos with other men on her iPad. He asked her to stop. He testified that he held the complainant on the bed in November 2017 because she had punched him in the chest, and that "it wasn't ... as bad as it sounded." Regarding the February 2018 incident, he explained that he believed the complainant was cheating on him and came up with the plan to hide under the bed so he could figure out who it was. He denied hurting women or that he had pointed a gun at an ex-girlfriend.

¶ 9. The jury found defendant guilty of all the charges except for the domestic-assault charge that was based on his allegedly hitting the complainant's buttocks in November 2017. The court subsequently sentenced defendant to serve, concurrently, two-and-a-half-to-three years for unlawful trespass, two-and-a-half-to-four years for obstruction of justice, and fifteen-to-eighteen months for the February 2018 domestic assault. It also sentenced defendant to serve, concurrently, fifteen-to-eighteen months for the November 2017 domestic assault and two-and-a-half-to-four years for unlawful restraint. It ordered that the two sets of sentences be served consecutively to each other, resulting in an aggregate sentence of five-to-eight years to serve. This appeal followed.

I. Unlawful Trespass

¶ 10. On appeal, defendant first argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal on the unlawful-trespass charge because there was insufficient evidence to show that defendant knew he did not have permission to enter the dwelling. We agree that the record does not support this conviction, and reverse.

¶ 11. Defendant was charged with violating 13 V.S.A. § 3705(d), which provides: "A person who enters a dwelling house, whether or not a person is actually present, knowing that he or she is not licensed or privileged to do so shall be imprisoned for not more than three years or fined not more than $2,000.00, or both." Defendant moved for judgment of acquittal after the State finished presenting its evidence, arguing that the record showed he had permission to enter the dwelling. The State admitted that defendant had permission to be in the complainant's home at times, but argued that by communicating to the complainant that he had left for New York, defendant "knew his license or privilege to be in the home had ended." The trial court noted that the statute criminalizes entry into a dwelling, not remaining. However, it concluded that the jury could reasonably find that defendant did not have permission to enter the home for the purpose of hiding under the complainant's bed.

¶ 12. When reviewing the denial of a motion for judgment of acquittal, we examine "whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the State and excluding any modifying evidence, fairly and reasonably tends to convince a reasonable trier of fact that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Delisle, 162 Vt. 293, 307, 648 A.2d 632, 641 (1994) (quotation and alterations omitted). Because the jury is best positioned to weigh the facts, the court should grant a judgment of acquittal "only when there is no evidence to support a guilty verdict." State v. Cameron, 2016 VT 134, ¶ 5, 204 Vt. 52, 163 A.3d 545. The issue before us therefore is ...

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4 cases
  • State v. Kuhlmann
    • United States
    • Vermont Supreme Court
    • June 24, 2022
    ...appeal from his conviction and sentencing was accepted and entered as Docket No. 2019-237. See State v. Kuhlmann, 2021 VT 52, 215 Vt. ––––, 260 A.3d 1115.¶ 5. On December 12, 2019, while his appeal in Docket No. 2019-237 was pending, defendant filed another pro se motion for a new trial. Th......
  • State v. Kuhlmann
    • United States
    • Vermont Supreme Court
    • June 24, 2022
    ...appeal from his conviction and sentencing was accepted and entered as Docket No. 2019-237. See State v. Kuhlmann, 2021 VT 52, ___Vt. ___, 260 A.3d 1115. ¶ 5. On December 12, 2019, while his appeal in Docket No. 2019-237 was pending, defendant filed another pro se motion for a new trial. The......
  • State v. Regimbald
    • United States
    • Vermont Supreme Court
    • March 31, 2022
    ...that the State failed to prove that the defendant subjectively knew he lacked permission to enter the house. 2021 VT 52, ¶ 20, ––– Vt. ––––, 260 A.3d 1115. However, in that case, the "defendant generally had permission to be in the complainant's house when she was not there," and at the tim......
  • In re Carris
    • United States
    • Vermont Supreme Court
    • July 20, 2021
    ... ... Respondent, William Tracy Carris, is a lawyer licensed to practice law in the State of Vermont; his license was suspended by order of this Court, dated May 3, 2021. On that same date, pursuant to Administrative Order 9, Rules 22.B ... ...

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