State v. Stell

Decision Date21 September 2007
Docket NumberNo. 06-190.,06-190.
CourtVermont Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Vermont v. Paul E. STELL.
937 A.2d 649
2007 VT 106
STATE of Vermont
Paul E. STELL.
No. 06-190.
Supreme Court of Vermont.
September 21, 2007.

[937 A.2d 650]

Sandra C. Bevans and Gabrielle J. Gautieri (on the brief), Bennington County Deputy State's Attorneys, Bennington, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Matthew F. Valerio, Defender General, Anna Saxman, Deputy Defender General, and Josh O'Hara, Law Clerk (on the brief), Montpelier, and Frederick C. Bragdon, Public Defender, Bennington, for Defendant-Appellant.


¶ 1. DOOLEY, J.

Defendant appeals the denial of his motion to arrest judgment after pleading guilty to both contempt, for failing to appear for fingerprinting as ordered by the court, and violation of a condition of his probation, for being arrested for an additional offense. On appeal, defendant argues, in part, that the court's fingerprinting order violated 20 V.S.A. § 2061(e), which requires that post-sentencing fingerprinting be imposed "as a condition of probation." Despite his failure to raise this argument below, we agree that the district court's order, and defendant's resulting contempt conviction,1 violated 20 V.S.A. § 2061(e). We therefore reverse and remand for the district court to vacate defendant's contempt conviction on this ground alone, and we do not reach the remainder of defendant's claims.

¶ 2. The facts begin with defendant's guilty plea to unlawful mischief, for which he received suspended jail time and probation with the standard conditions. The probation order did not contain a condition

937 A.2d 651

that defendant submit to fingerprinting, but instead, on request of the prosecution,2 the court issued a separate order requiring that defendant appear within five days at the local police station for fingerprinting. The probation order did contain a standard condition that defendant not be charged with an additional offense.

¶ 3. Claiming that he forgot about this requirement, defendant did not appear within the time limit of the order and was subsequently arrested for failing to comply. The State charged him with contempt of court pursuant to Vermont Rule of Criminal Procedure 42. Defendant was arraigned on December 12, 2005. By that time, he also faced a charge of violating the condition of his probation that he not be charged with an additional offense.

¶ 4. At arraignment, defendant's attorney moved orally for the court to exercise its discretion and dismiss the matter. See Orr v. Orr, 122 Vt. 470, 474, 177 A.2d 233, 236 (1962) ("The power of contempt is, in the main, discretionary."). Counsel urged that the exercise of discretion was appropriate because defendant faced "a violation of probation with an added sanction."

¶ 5. The court declined to rule on whether it had discretion to dismiss defendant's contempt charge. Counsel then asked the court to accept his client's admission to violation of probation and guilty plea to contempt in exchange for a $150 fine. After converting the fine into twenty hours of community service, the court commenced the plea colloquy, and defendant pleaded guilty to contempt and admitted the probation violation. The court sentenced him to twenty hours of community service for contempt and an additional forty hours of community service for violating his probation. When asked if counsel had anything to add, defendant's attorney stated: "No. Subject to the things we already spoke about."

¶ 6. Several days after the conclusion of arraignment proceedings, defendant, through counsel, filed a motion to arrest judgment and request for hearing in the criminal contempt case pursuant to Rule 34. See V.R.Cr.P. 34. Rule 34 provides that "[t]he court on motion of a defendant shall arrest judgment if the indictment or information does not charge an offense or if the court was without jurisdiction of the offense charged."

¶ 7. Defendant's Rule 34 motion relied on two main arguments. First, defendant argued that his failure to appear for fingerprinting as ordered by the court did "not impede[] or interrupt the Court's proceedings or lessen its dignity" and, therefore, the appropriate charge was civil, not criminal, contempt. See In re C.W., 169 Vt. 512, 517, 739 A.2d 1236, 1240 (1999). Alternatively, even if the appropriate charge was criminal contempt, defendant contended that "a material element of the charge" was missing because the court's initial fingerprinting order did not expressly state the consequences of failing to obey it. See id. at 519, 739 A.2d at 1241.3

¶ 8. The district court denied defendant's motion. On the first issue, it reasoned that the contempt was criminal as opposed

937 A.2d 652

to civil because the purpose of the charge was to punish defendant for failing to obey a court order, consistent with the purpose of criminal contempt. See id. at 516, 739 A.2d at 1239 ("The purpose of a criminal contempt proceeding is punitive, and the purpose of a civil contempt proceeding is coercive."). As to the second argument, the court acknowledged limited Vermont case law as to whether advance notice of potential criminal consequences is required for criminal contempt. See id. at 518-19, 739 A.2d at 1240-41 (requiring warning of potential criminal consequences for violation of protective orders under 33 V.S.A. § 5534); State v. Coburn, 2006 VT 31, ¶ 11, 179 Vt. 448, 898 A.2d 128 (stating that "only process due" with respect to warnings in the criminal context "is what the statute directs to be done"). The district court further noted a split in the federal circuit courts on the issue, see United States v. Petito, 671 F.2d 68, 72-73 (2d Cir.1982) (collecting cases), and ultimately concluded that, in the absence of any statutory requirement that defendant be warned of the potential criminal consequences of failing to submit to fingerprinting, no such warning was required.

¶ 9. On appeal, defendant argues that the fingerprinting statute, 20 V.S.A. § 2061(e), provides the court authority to order fingerprinting in defendant's circumstances only as a condition of probation. Thus, he contends, "[t]he scheme used in Bennington allows a double penalty to be imposed on the defendant: a contempt of court and a violation of probation" contrary to the statute. Further, he maintains that, if the charge was properly criminal contempt, he was not provided sufficient notice of the consequences of failing to obey the court's order.

¶ 10. Although not addressed by either party, our first inquiry is whether defendant's statutory argument is within the scope of our review, given its debut on appeal. Absent plain error, arguments raised for the first time on appeal are generally not preserved. State v. Sprague, 2003 VT 20, ¶ 11, 175 Vt. 123, 824 A.2d 539. Apart from plain error, however, Rule 12(b)(2) expressly provides that defenses and...

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  • State v. Rondeau
    • United States
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    • 18 November 2016
    ...under Criminal Procedure Rule 12(b)(2) a motion alleging a defect in the information may be made at any time. See State v. Stell , 2007 VT 106, ¶ 10, 182 Vt. 368, 937 A.2d 649. This is particularly true where, as in this case, our review of the information implicates two constitutional prov......
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    ... ...         ¶ 5. The principles governing our interpretation of legislation are settled. "Our goal is to implement the Legislature's intent and `[t]he definitive source of legislative intent is the statutory language, by which we are bound unless it is uncertain or unclear.'" State v. Stell, 2007 VT 106, ¶ 12, 182 Vt. 368, 937 A.2d 649 (quoting In re Bennington Sch., Inc., 2004 VT 6, ¶ 12, 176 Vt. 584, 845 A.2d 332 (mem.)). "We assume the Legislature intended the plain and ordinary meaning of the language it used, and thus, only when the objective of the legislation would be ... ...
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    ...under Criminal Procedure Rule 12(b)(2) a motion alleging a defect in the information may be made at any time. See State v. Stell, 2007 VT 106, ¶ 10, 182 Vt. 368, 937 A.2d 649. This is particularly true where, as in this case, our review of the information implicates two constitutional provi......
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