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State v. Morris

Supreme Court of Vermont

January 2, 2015

State of Vermont
Chad E. Morris

Editorial Note:

This decision has been designated as "Supreme Court of Vermont Appeals Disposed of Without Published Opinion or Memorandum Decision." table in the Atlantic Reporter

Appeal from: Superior Court, Rut. Crim. Division. DOCKET NO. 1582-11-14 Rdcr. Trial Judge: Thomas A. Zonay .


Robinson, A.J.

In this bail appeal, defendant Chad E. Morris challenges the superior court's imposition of a condition of pretrial release requiring that he give a surety bond or cash of $100,000. Defendant argues that under the facts of this case, a bail requirement in this amount violates the statutory requirement that conditions of release must be the " least restrictive combination of ... conditions which will reasonably assure the appearance of [defendant] as required" in court. 13 V.S.A. § 7554(a)(1). We affirm.

The transcripts and documents in the trial court record, including affidavits of the investigating police officers, reflect the following, which is uncontested for purposes of this appeal.[1]

In the very early-morning hours of November 1, 2014, police received a complaint from a neighbor about a noisy fight in an apartment in Clarendon. Shortly thereafter, a trooper arrived at the unit, where defendant lived with his girlfriend, and saw defendant's girlfriend being treated by ambulance workers for injuries. The trooper noted that the girlfriend had blood on her hands and face and was shaking and crying. By that time, defendant had already left the scene. The trooper interviewed the girlfriend, who told him that defendant had returned home from a bar intoxicated, and she demanded that he leave the residence and return the keys. In the ensuing heated argument and physical altercation, defendant advanced on the girlfriend in a threatening way and the girlfriend struck him in an attempt to get him to leave. Defendant stated " I'll fucking kill you," hit her in the face several times, bloodying her nose and injuring her arm and back, and choked her until she " crumbled on the floor gasping for breath." Defendant then took her cell phone, preventing her from calling police or an ambulance, and left the scene.

Seven hours later, police responded to a 911 call from a neighbor reporting a second ongoing fight at the same apartment. Defendant had returned to the apartment and engaged in a loud verbal argument with the girlfriend. Defendant threw a ceramic coffee mug into the sink, where it broke, and left the apartment again to go to work. Police arrived soon after and the girlfriend reported that in addition to the incident in the early-morning hours of that day, defendant had choked her in the past; had threatened to kill her and her son in the past; had access to firearms; and was " violently and constantly" jealous and controlling. While police remained at the apartment, defendant telephoned her around six times, leaving several voicemail messages, stating that he " would stick a knife in her" and that she was a " dumb bitch" and " fucking cunt."

Less than an hour after the second incident, police arrested defendant at his job site. Defendant confirmed that he had driven home that night from a bar and was " pretty buzzed." He stated that the girlfriend had struck him, that he had tried to restrain the girlfriend only so he could collect personal property and leave, and that he could not remember other details because he had been intoxicated. Police served defendant with a relief-from-abuse order obtained by the girlfriend that morning. Defendant stated " I'm going to string her by the neck and fuck her in the ass" and told the arresting trooper to " stick [the relief-from-abuse order] up my ass."

Defendant was charged by information two days later with one count of felony first-degree aggravated domestic assault, 13 V.S.A. § 1043(a)(1), one count of misdemeanor interference with access to emergency services, id. § 1031; and one count of operating a motor vehicle while license was suspended for the sixth or subsequent time, id. § 674(a)(2). Defendant was arraigned the same day and pleaded not guilty. The court imposed nine nonmonetary conditions of release (which defendant does not contest in this appeal) and a requirement that defendant give a surety bond or cash of $100,000. Id. § 7554(a)(1)(E).

Weighing in favor of imposing a higher bail requirement, the court considered: (1) the nature and seriousness of the charged offenses, most significantly the aggravated domestic assault charge, which carries a maximum penalty of fifteen years' imprisonment; (2) the " strong" weight of the evidence and defendant's concession that the state had a prima facie case; (3) the circumstances leading up to the incidents of November 1 and defendant's " character and mental condition," including defendant's possible drug use and the likelihood that defendant had previously engaged in " extreme" actual or threatened violence toward the girlfriend and her son, and had access to firearms; (4) defendant's multiple voicemail messages to the girlfriend and comments to arresting officers, which the court found were not only " crude" and " coarse" but also " direct" threats to commit violent acts against the girlfriend; (5) defendant's twelve past misdemeanor convictions and two past felony convictions (a 2005 conviction of possession of more than 200 milligrams of heroin and a 2000 sexual assault conviction), which would likely affect possible sentencing; and (6) defendant's past revocation of probation in 2002 following a violation of his terms of probation.[2]

Weighing in favor of imposing a lower bail requirement, the court considered that defendant had strong community ties, was a lifelong resident of the community, lived near his parents and brother and would, if released before trial, live in his parents' home,[3] had been self-employed for the past two years as a construction worker and roofer, had no significant failures to appear despite his extensive criminal history, and had properly registered with the sex-offender registry each year since he was convicted of sexual assault in 2000.

Weighing all the factors, the court determined that " a risk of non-appearance significantly outweigh[ed] the other factors" and imposed a $100,000 bail requirement as well as the nine nonmonetary conditions of release.

Following the arraignment, defendant moved on December 8 for a bail-review hearing and for a reduction in the monetary bail requirement. See 13 V.S.A. ยง 7554(d)(1) (" A person for whom conditions of release are imposed and who is detained as a result of his or her inability to meet the conditions of release ... shall ... be entitled to have the condition reviewed by a judge in the court having original jurisdiction over the offense charged." ). At the December 15 bail-review hearing, defendant argued that the nonmonetary conditions of release imposed by the court were sufficient, and that " at this point it appears that a $100,000 bail requirement would be unnecessary to reasonably assure his appearance." Defendant suggested that a $10,000 secured appearance bond would be an " appropriate ... lesser amount" that would be " sufficient to reach his surety." Both the State and defendant largely renewed their arguments raised at the arraignment, with defendant emphasizing that defendant's parents had made a commitment to notify police if defendant was not compliant with conditions of release. The trial court denied the motion to reduce bail and maintained the bail amount at $100,000, again determining that " [w]hen the Court looks at everything in this case it notes that ...

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