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What Do You Do if You Are On Trial For a Crime in Vermont?

The first step in a Vermont criminal procedure is arrest or indictment. Following their arrest, accused persons must prepare for multiple court hearings and a possible trial. In preparation for the court process, the accused is advised to hire legal representation or opt for self-representation.

After arrest, the defendant must attend a bond hearing where the court decides whether the person meets bail criteria or will remain in custody until the end of the case. Litigants may hire a bail bond agent to assist in the bail/bond process, and this is especially helpful for litigants who cannot afford court-specified bail amounts. It is worth noting that the court has other bail conditions. For example, the court may release on recognizance. Recognizance means that the court grants the accused person bail on the condition that the person makes a written promise to be present at all court hearings for the case. The court does not require payment for release on recognizance.

Some criminal cases do not go to trial. In such cases, the accused person may plead guilty to the charge or negotiate a plea deal before trial.

What Percentage of Criminal Cases Go to Trial in Vermont?

Vermont’s Criminal Court division handled 18,000 criminal cases in 2019. Of all the cases filed in court, 71% were criminal, with misdemeanors taking 57%. The court added 3,170 felony cases and disposed of 3,082 felony cases in 2019. In the same year, the criminal court added 12,593 misdemeanor cases and disposed of 11,905 misdemeanor cases. In Vermont, only 2% of felony cases and less than 1% of misdemeanor cases get dismissed in court by trial or by a judge. Most criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains. In 2019, the total number of jury trials was 99, a 19% decrease from the number of jury trials in 2018.

When Does a Criminal Defendant Have the Right to a Trial?

The Vermont state constitution guarantees all litigants the right to a fair and speedy trial and impartial justice administration. Litigants may choose to have a jury trial or a bench trial. A jury trial involves a panel of five to twelve jurors who decide the verdict of the case. Litigants may opt to have a jury of less than twelve (12) peers. Alternatively, they may choose to waive a jury trial altogether. The option to waive a trial is only available for criminal offenses that are not punishable by death. In this case, the judge alone will find facts and determine the verdict of the case. Litigants who choose to waive a jury trial must do so in writing or open court. Also, the court and the state must consent to the waiver.

What Are the Stages of a Criminal Trial in Vermont?

In Vermont, the stages of a criminal trial are:

  • Opening statements
  • Evidence presentation
  • Witness testimony
  • Direct examination of witnesses
  • Cross-examination of witnesses
  • Closing statements
  • Jury charge
  • Jury deliberation
  • Verdict
  • Sentencing

How Long Does it Take For a Case to Go to Trial in Vermont?

The US Constitution and Vermont state laws protect citizens’ right to a speedy trial. These state and federal laws aim to protect litigants from the prejudice that may arise from delays in trial processes. The Vermont Supreme Court set six months for the disposition of non-complex felony cases. Similarly, the Vermont Supreme Court set a four-month timeline for non-complex misdemeanor cases to be disposed of. In 2019, 39% of felony cases and 60% of misdemeanor cases met the Supreme Court’s timelines.

Vermont state statutes also assert the right to a speedy trial when the court denies the accused person bail. The court must begin trial proceedings no more than 60 days after it denies the accused bail. If any delays extend the trial commencement beyond 60 days, the court must schedule a bail hearing and set bail for the accused. However, this law does not apply to criminal offenses punishable by life imprisonment or death.

What Happens When a Court Case Goes to Trial in Vermont?

Criminal case trials in Vermont typically begin with jury selection. Vermont laws allow defendants to participate in the jury selection. When the selection process is complete, the trial begins with opening statements from the state prosecutor and the defense. The state has the burden of proof and must prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. After the opening statements, the prosecution and defense present evidence and any witness testimonies. The prosecution cross-examines the defense’s witnesses and vice versa. Next is the closing arguments from the defense and prosecution, after which the judge will charge the jury by reading the jury the law.

Having listened to the statements, testimonies, and arguments presented, the jury retires to a private place to deliberate. The judge can only pronounce an accused person guilty if the jury unanimously agrees that the accused is guilty. There is no jury in a bench trial; therefore, the judge determines whether the accused is guilty or not. After the jury’s verdict has been read aloud in open court, the judge delivers a sentence or sets a sentencing date.

Can you Be Put on Trial Twice for the Same Crime in Vermont?

No, it is not possible to try a person twice for the same crime in Vermont. The US Constitution protects litigants against double jeopardy. However, there are some limitations to the Double Jeopardy Clause. For instance, if a person commits an offense that is punishable under two sovereign states’ laws, both sovereign states may charge and try the accused person separately.

How Do I Lookup a Criminal Court Case in Vermont?

Criminal case records are available for inspection and copying at Vermont courthouses. Persons interested in looking up or obtaining copies of criminal records may visit the Clerk of Court in the local courthouse that heard or filed the case. The Clerk of Court is the record custodian and is required by law to make public records available on request. Interested parties may need to fill a request form or submit written records requests. Criminal court records are also available online on government portals such as VT Courts Online, the Vermont Judiciary Public Portal, and third-party websites.

How to Access Electronic Court Records in Vermont

VT Courts Online is one of Vermont Judiciary’s electronic court records repositories. The website provides access to court calendars and case information; however, only case summaries and docket chronologies are available on VT Courts Online. To access information on this website, users must register an account and pay a fee of $12.50. The cost is payable for registration and five lookups. Users interested in more lookups can pay after registration. VT Courts Online does not display confidential records or records restricted from public access by law.

The Vermont Judiciary Public Portal also offers public access to court records and calendar information. Public users may freely access limited court information on the website. Case parties and legal representatives of case parties may access more information by registering on the website. Users may search for case records using party name or record number.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How Do I Remove Public Court Records in Vermont?

Expungement and sealing are two ways to remove public court records in Vermont. When the court enters an order of expungement, officials delete all the court records of the expunged offense from the government databases. The court also destroys the case files. Sealing restricts court records from public access. While unauthorized persons may no longer view or copy sealed records, the records are still available for judicial or law enforcement use.

The court seals non-conviction records 60 days after the case disposition unless a case party objects or the court finds a good reason to make the record publicly accessible. For conviction records, the offense must be eligible for sealing or expungement, and the offender must meet other eligibility criteria.

Eligible persons interested in sealing or expunging public records may file a motion of expungement or seal with the local court that heard the case.

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