State v. Morrill, 311

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont
Citation127 Vt. 506,253 A.2d 142
Decision Date01 April 1969
Docket NumberNo. 311,311
PartiesSTATE of Vermont v. Richard L. MORRILL.

Page 142

253 A.2d 142
127 Vt. 506
STATE of Vermont
Richard L. MORRILL.
No. 311.
Supreme Court of Vermont.
April 1, 1969.

[127 Vt. 508]

Page 143

Patrick J. Leahy, State's Atty., and Charles R. Tetzlaff, Asst. State's Atty., for the State.

Paul, Frank & Collins, Burlington, for defendant.

Before [127 Vt. 506] HOLDEN, C. J., SHANGRAW, BARNEY and KEYSER, JJ., and LARROW, Superior Judge.

[127 Vt. 508] KEYSER, Justice.

On November 2, 1967, Richard L. Morrill was convicted by a jury in Chittenden County Court of the crime of statutory rape and given a lengthy prison term. His appeal to this court presents three questions: (1) Whether the deliberation by

Page 144

the jury of only one-half hour means that they must have ignored the court's charge and based their verdict on mistake, passion, or prejudice; (2) Whether the charge of the court to the jury invaded the province of the jury and thus denied the appellant his constitutional right to trial by jury; and (3) Whether the court excluded admissible testimony which would have convinced the jury to find the defendant not guilty.

The first assignment of error springs from the denial by the trial court of the respondent's motion to set aside the verdict. This invoked a discretionary ruling by the court below. To be error, an abuse or withholding by the court of its discretion must be shown. And this court is bound to indulge every reasonable presumption in favor of the ruling below. John v. Fernandez, 124 Vt. 346, 348, 205 A.2d 552.

As shown by the record, the jury reached their verdict one-half hour after receiving the case from the court. The respondent argues that this fact coupled with the inflammatory nature of the case indicates that a verdict was reached before the jurors had time for reasoned deliberation.

This precise question was raised by the respondent in State v. Lumbra, 122 Vt. 467, 177 A.2d 356, 91 A.L.R.2d 1235. In that case the jury deliberated approximately eight minutes. Although that case [127 Vt. 509] was a prosecution for driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor and the case at bar involves a much more serious crime, the law is equally applicable here.

Chief Justice Hulburd said in the Lumbra case at pages 469-470, 177 A.2d at page 358: 'The law does not attempt to prescribe the length of time which a jury should take to arrive at a verdict. Indeed, it has been held that a jury may render a verdict without retiring. (Case cited) Of course, the trial court may-and doubtless should-cause the jury to reconsider its verdict if it considers that their decision is so hasty as to indicate, in the circumstances, either a flippant disregard or a perfunctory performance of their duties. (Case cited) Specifically, it has been held that a period of deliberation of eight minutes was not unreasonable. (Citing cases and 89 C.J.S.Trial p. 93).'

Following the report of the Lumbra case in 91 A.L.R.2d there is an annotation on this question at pages 1238-1251. This annotation (1963) deals with the effect on a verdict in a criminal case of the haste or shortness of time taken by the jury in reaching the verdict. It is there stated that 'no criminal case has been found in which haste or shortness of time taken by a jury in arriving at a verdict was held to amount to reversible error.' Numerous cases are there cited from nineteen jurisdictions showing that the length of time taken by the jury in returning a verdict ranged from four minutes (United States v. Young, 1962, CA 6 Tenn., 301 F.2d 298, possession of an illicit still) to thirty minutes (Smith v. State, 40 Tex.Cr. 391, 50 S.W. 938, a murder case). The annotation points out the views taken by the various courts in deciding that no prejudicial error was found.

Generally, it can be said that the strength of the evidence is one of the controlling factors on the duration of the deliberation of the jury. See State v. Lumbra, supra, 122 Vt. at p. 470, 177 A.2d 356. There is no law which requires a jury to deliberate any longer than may be necessary to agree upon a verdict. And jurors undoubtedly begin their deliberation process during the progress of the trial. Furthermore, the historical inviolability and independence of the jury tend to make inquiry into the manner of reaching a verdict improper. State v. Richmond, 321 Mo. 662, 12 S.W.2d 34.

Our review of the transcript in the instant case discloses that the evidence of respondent's guilt was clear, concise and overwhelming. The testimony given by the witnesses that the age of the prosecutrix

Page 145

was eleven years is uncontradicted. The girl, Elizabeth, and a younger [127 Vt. 510] sister and brother were guests in the respondent's trailer home in Shelburne from about 3 A. M. on May 14. She was put in the same bed with the respondent and a Madelyn Guerrard who had lived with the respondent about five years. At first she was placed on the front side of the bed but shortly afterwards she was put in the middle by Miss Guerrard on the instruction of the respondent. The testimony of the prosecutrix concerning the act committed by the respondent at that time is corroborated by the testimony of Miss Guerrard, she being present when the incident in question occurred. There is also medical testimony that a physical examination of the girl on May 17th disclosed three lacerations in the girl's genital area, the appearance of which was 'consistent with the little girl's story that she suffered them about three days before' the doctor saw her.

This is only a capsule summary of the evidence introduced which was before the jury for...

To continue reading

Request your trial
81 cases
  • State v. Kasper
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • April 5, 1979
    ...of (a defendant's) constitutional rights," failure to raise it in the trial court will not bar its assertion here. State v. Morrill, 127 Vt. 506, 511, 253 A.2d 142, 145 (1969). In such a case, failure to make the claim below has not deprived the trial court of "a fair opportunity to conside......
  • State v. Hunt, 85-235
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • October 21, 1988
    ...not find it "so grave and serious that it strikes at the very heart of the [defendant's] constitutional rights," State v. Morrill, 127 Vt. 506, 511, 253 A.2d 142, 145 (1969); it does not constitute plain error. The claim was waived and consequently we will not address We consider next defen......
  • Mecier, In re, 378-81
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • April 5, 1983
    ...140 Vt. 247, 257, 437 A.2d 1093, 1098 (1981), and State v. Blaine, 133 Vt. 345, 349, 341 A.2d 16, 19 (1975)); State v. Morrill, 127 Vt. 506, 511, 253 A.2d 142, 145 (1969). Defendant urges us to hold that the right to testify is secured by both the federal and Vermont constitutions, that it ......
  • State v. Berard, 44-73
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • February 5, 1974
    ...was too remote. Possible hostility of the witness's husband to the defendant was a subject of cross-examination in State v. Morrill, 127 Vt. 506, 513, 253 A.2d 142 (1969). This was excluded and affirmed here, apparently, as being too remote. See also State v. Blair, 118 Vt. 81, 96-97, 250 A......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT