State v. Wargo, 97-246.

Decision Date28 August 1998
Docket NumberNo. 97-246.,97-246.
Citation719 A.2d 407
PartiesSTATE of Vermont v. Louis J. WARGO, III.
CourtVermont Supreme Court

William H. Sorrell, Attorney General, and Susan R. Harritt, Assistant Attorney General, Montpelier, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Charles S. Martin and Monica Litzelman of Martin & Associates, Barre, for Defendant-Appellant.


JOHNSON, Justice.

Defendant appeals from an order of the Chittenden District Court determining that it lacked jurisdiction to consider defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The trial court thereafter granted defendant's motion for permission to bring this appeal pursuant to V.R.A.P. 5.1. The district court certified the following question for our review: "Where defendant pled guilty to an offense, received a fully suspended one-to-five year sentence, and was placed on probation on September 13, 1996, does the District Court have jurisdiction to consider defendant's January 2, 1997 motion to withdraw his plea, pursuant to V.R.Cr.P. 32(d)?" The certified question is answered in the negative. We conclude that the district court lacked jurisdiction to entertain defendant's motion and affirm.

Defendant pled not guilty to one count of aggravated sexual assault of a child, 13 V.S.A. § 3253(a)(8), and to one count of lewd and lascivious conduct, 13 V.S.A. § 2601. Defendant and the State reached a plea agreement whereby the sexual assault charge was dismissed and defendant pled guilty to the charge of lewd and lascivious conduct. The court thereafter accepted defendant's guilty plea and on September 13, 1996, sentenced defendant to one to five years all suspended and placed him on probation. One of the conditions of defendant's probation was that he complete sex offender counseling.

On December 3, 1996, defendant's probation officer filed a probation violation complaint alleging that defendant was rejected from sex offender counseling because of his denial of the alleged offense. On January 2, 1997, defendant filed a motion with the court seeking to withdraw his guilty plea pursuant to V.R.Cr.P. 32(d). The court orally granted the motion on February 10, 1997. The State moved for reconsideration, and the court reversed its prior decision, determining that it lacked jurisdiction to consider defendant's motion because he was "in custody under sentence."

V.R.Cr.P. 32(d) provides in relevant part:

A motion to withdraw a plea of guilty. . . may be made only by a defendant who is not in custody under sentence. The motion must be made prior to or within 30 days after the date of entry of judgment, except that a defendant whose sentence does not include a term of imprisonment may make the motion at any time . . . . If the motion is made after sentence, the court may set aside the judgment of conviction and permit withdrawal of the plea only to correct manifest injustice.

(Emphasis added.) Defendant argues that a person placed on probation pursuant to a suspended sentence is not "in custody under sentence" for purposes of Rule 32(d). The State responds that such a defendant is "in custody under sentence" and, therefore, may challenge his conviction only by filing a petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 7131.

Defendant first argues that Rule 32(d) is a remedial measure and as such should be construed broadly to permit a defendant to withdraw his guilty plea even when the defendant may seek relief under the PCR statute. In support of this argument, defendant compares V.R.Cr.P. 32(d) to Vermont's wrongful death statute, a remedial measure that is to be liberally construed. See, e.g., Clymer v. Webster, 156 Vt. 614, 596 A.2d 905 (1991). The wrongful death statute was "designed to allay the harsh common law rule denying liability due to the death of the victim." State v. Oliver, 151 Vt. 626, 629, 563 A.2d 1002, 1004 (1989). Rule 32(d), by contrast, is a rule of criminal procedure, not a remedial statute, and therefore does not merit a liberal construction.

Defendant further argues that our case law defining "custody" for purposes of the PCR statute is not dispositive of the meaning of "in custody under sentence" for purposes of Rule 32(d). We disagree. Both Rule 32(d) and the PCR statute employ the identical phrase, "in custody under sentence," precisely for the purpose of establishing exclusive remedies. Thus, logic dictates that the same meaning must be attributed to the term in both contexts.

We addressed the relationship between Rule 32(d) motions and PCR petitions in State v. Cooley, 135 Vt. 409, 377 A.2d 1386 (1977). In Cooley we determined that the defendant could not withdraw his plea under Rule 32(d) while he was serving his sentence because, where post-conviction relief was available to the defendant under 13 V.S.A. § 7131, the district court was without jurisdiction to consider a Rule 32(d) motion. See id. at 411, 377 A.2d at 1387. This holding was based on our determination that Rule 32(d) was not intended to provide a procedure for obtaining post-conviction relief separate and apart from the post-conviction relief statute. See id.; see also Reporter's Notes, 1980 Amendment to V.R.Cr.P. 32(d) (Rule 32(d) applicable only when post-conviction relief unavailable).

Rule 32(d) was subsequently amended to incorporate our holding in Cooley by requiring that a defendant not be "in custody under sentence" in order to invoke relief under Rule 32(d). The phrase "in custody under sentence" is borrowed from the language of the PCR statute and "[i]ts use makes clear that the procedure of the rule applies only when the statutory relief procedure is inapplicable." Reporter's Notes, 1980 Amendment to V.R.Cr.P. 32(d); see also Cooley, 135 Vt. at 411, 377 A.2d at 1387 (Rule 32(d) not intended to provide another post-conviction forum). We therefore conclude that the phrase "in custody under sentence" as used in Rule 32(d) has the same meaning as it does under the PCR statute.

Defendant next contends that he is not "in custody under sentence" as it is used in Rule 32(d) because his sentence has been suspended and he has been placed on probation. We disagree. First, a defendant need not be incarcerated to be "in custody." "[A] significant restraint on personal liberty" is sufficient to meet the requirement. In re Stewart, 140 Vt. 351, 360, 438 A.2d 1106, 1109 (1981); accord In re Liberty, 154 Vt. 643, 644, 572 A.2d 1381, 1382 (1990). Mandatory supervision by...

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8 cases
  • In re D.C.
    • United States
    • Vermont Supreme Court
    • 24 Junio 2016
    ...would be considered a prisoner who was “in custody under sentence” and could bring a PCR action under § 7131. See State v. Wargo, 168 Vt. 231, 235, 719 A.2d 407, 409–10 (1998) (concluding probationer in custody under sentence “for purposes of ... the PCR statute.”). This conclusion does not......
  • In re Collette
    • United States
    • Vermont Supreme Court
    • 12 Diciembre 2008
    ...DUI-2, and so was a person "in custody under sentence of a court" entitled to seek PCR pursuant to § 7131. See State v. Wargo, 168 Vt. 231, 234-35, 719 A.2d 407, 410 (1998) (holding that probationers were "in custody" for purposes of the PCR statute). While still on probation, and with the ......
  • Dalmer v. State
    • United States
    • Vermont Supreme Court
    • 15 Agosto 2002
    ...§ 1031(8) (under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, physical custody means "actual possession and control"); State v. Wargo, 168 Vt. 231, 234, 719 A.2d 407, 409 (1998) (for purposes of post-conviction relief statute and V.R.Cr.P. 32(d), custody means a significant restraint of personal......
  • State v. Yates, 97-191.
    • United States
    • Vermont Supreme Court
    • 8 Enero 1999
    ...liberty that were sufficient to constitute custody. We agree with the State that defendant was in custody. See State v. Wargo, 168 Vt. ___, ___, 719 A.2d 407, 409-10 (1998) (post-sentence probation conditions are sufficient to constitute custody); see also In re Liberty, 154 Vt. 643, 644, 5......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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