What happens to Vermont misdemeanor criminal cases when courts reopen?

If you have been issued a criminal citation in Vermont in the last several weeks, chances are, the initial court date, or arraignment, has been set for at least the middle of May and perhaps even June. In many cases, defendants who were issued citations for March or April initially, have heard back from law enforcement regarding their resistance of citations for later dates. This subject was covered recently in a Chadwick & Spensley blog post. With a large volume of cases being pushed to several months after the alleged incident, it is reasonable to question exactly what the court system will look like when criminal courts open their doors on a date which has yet to be determined by Vermont Supreme Court.

Full Dockets Mean Less Court Availability

It is inevitable that the court dockets will be heavily burdened during the initial reopening period. Pre-Trial Hearings will all strain the court system, especially those that require an evidentiary hearing. The need for judges to hear cases will also strain the trial date availability. In most Vermont counties, there were only a few trial dates available each month prior to the Covid-19 crisis, however, with the current backlog, there will be a substantial increase in the volume of pending cases as well as those that are ready for trial.

What can be done to limit the strain on defendants facing Vermont criminal charges?

Although each criminal case has its unique facts and strategy, there are certain things may assist defendants in alleviating their personal strain, which in turn could alleviate the court systems.

  1. Seek waivers of client’s appearances whenever possible: Most Vermont misdemeanor cases will require at least 3 and, depending on the complexity of the case and whether the case will be tried, upwards of 6 or more judicial hearings. Upon motion, judges have the discretion to waive individual defendants’ personal appearances in most criminal hearings, which can include jury trials and evidentiary hearings where the legal arguments are being made by counsel. See Vermont Rules of Criminal Procedure 43(c).
  2. Seek State’s discovery through digital means: The State is required to produce all evidence which they intend to introduce at any trial to the defense. A prompt request for the state to provide discovery through digital means, which can include police video footage, can be requested prior to an arraignment under certain circumstances. The sooner this discovery can be obtained and reviewed, the more prepared the defense will be prior to the initial hearing. This preparation may allow the parties to discuss the case prior to the arraignment which, in some cases, can also involve settlement negotiations.
  3. Conduct Efficient Investigations: With the initial discovery in hand, investigations into the facts can begin while leads are still fresh. The lapse of time can be a significant adversary in formulating a defense strategy. Memories fade and incident scenes may wash potential evidence away. In many cases, the State has already gathered the evidence that they feel if introduced, could secure a conviction. This can especially be true in Vermont traffic based offenses, such as DUI, Excessive Speed and Negligent Operation.

The courts will reopen and cases will be heard again. Although the exact date is to be determined, the court system will be churning along before too long. When it does, having the right efficiency plan in place, could make a huge difference in minimizing the time that will need to be expended in the overloaded Vermont criminal court system.

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