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State v. Collins

Supreme Court of Vermont

September 8, 2017

State of Vermont
Travis C. Collins, Sr.

         APPEALED FROM: Superior Court, Franklin Unit, Criminal Division DOCKET NO. 796-6-17 Frcr Trial Judge: A. Gregory Rainville

          ENTRY ORDER

         In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:

         ¶ 1. Defendant Travis C. Collins, Sr. appeals a trial court determination holding him without bail. He raises two arguments on appeal. First, that the court erred when it permitted the State, in the absence of any change in the evidence, to file a motion to hold without bail after a prior determination that he was bailable. Second, that the court erred when it did not consider the factors listed in 13 V.S.A. § 7554 before holding him without bail. We agree with defendant's second argument and thus, reverse and remand.

         ¶ 2. The State has charged defendant with two offenses. First, defendant is charged with kidnapping in violation of 13 V.S.A. § 2405(a)(1)(C), which provides that "[a] person commits the crime of kidnapping if the person . . . knowingly restrains another person with the intent to . . . place the restrained person . . . in fear that any person will be subjected to bodily injury." This crime is punishable by a fine of up to $50, 000 or a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, or both. Id. § 2405(b). Second, defendant is charged with interference with access to emergency services in violation of 13 V.S.A. § 1031, which prohibits "willfully prevent[ing] or attempt[ing] to prevent a person from seeking or receiving emergency medical assistance, emergency assistance from a third party, or emergency assistance from law enforcement, " an offense punishable by imprisonment for one year or a $5000 fine, or both.

         ¶ 3. At defendant's arraignment on the charges the State initially asked the trial court to continue the $25, 000 cash bail that had been set after-hours prior to the arraignment and to set conditions of release. The State argued that this was appropriate based on the severity of the allegations, as well as defendant's three prior Vermont misdemeanor convictions, a federal firearms conviction, and a New York assault or drug offense. The State also noted that defendant had a single prior failure to appear in his record. Defense counsel clarified that defendant had only a single prior conviction and that the other charges referred to by the State had been dismissed. Defense counsel also argued that defendant had strong connections within Vermont and that defendant's brother was willing to provide supervision for defendant on release. Neither the State nor defendant presented evidence or called witnesses at this initial hearing. The trial court set bail at $100, 000; basing its decision on the severity of the allegations, as well as defendant's past failure to appear and past probation revocation.

         ¶ 4. Defendant was unable to post bail and remained in pretrial custody. Through counsel, defendant subsequently filed a motion to review bail. Defendant argued at the review hearing that his strong ties to the community lessened his risk of flight. One of defendant's family members testified that she and her husband would supervise defendant if he was released on bail. The trial court declined to reduce bail to the amount defendant requested, but did lower the previous $100, 000 bail to $25, 000, with ten percent of that amount necessary to secure release. The court found that, "due to the nature of the charges, the seriousness of them, there's a heightened risk of failure to appear, " but also noted that this Court's prior decisions have made clear that trial courts should be "circumspect" in using discretion to set bail at an amount that a defendant cannot pay. See State v. Pratt, 2017 VT 9, ¶¶ 17-18, __Vt.__, __ A.3d __. Defendant posted bail within a few days and was released with conditions.

         ¶ 5. During the bail review hearing, the State asked the court to hear an oral motion to hold defendant without bail pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 7553. The court declined, stating that any motion to hold without bail should have been filed previously and that, if the State wished to proceed on such a motion, it should be filed in writing. The State filed a written motion to hold defendant without bail the same day.

         ¶ 6. The trial court held a hearing on the State's motion on August 7, 2017. At this hearing, the State called the victim of defendant's alleged kidnapping offense, the victim's husband, and the police officer who responded to the initial call related to defendant's alleged offenses. Defendant did not present any evidence or call any witnesses, though defense counsel reiterated previous arguments emphasizing defendant's strong community ties and low risk of flight. The court found the State's evidence on the kidnapping charge "compelling, " and thus concluded that the State had met its burden to show that there was great evidence of defendant's culpability.[*] The court then ordered defendant held without bail. The trial court did not state on the record the reasons for holding defendant without bail, aside from its finding that the evidence of guilt was great. This appeal followed.

         ¶ 7. Defendant raises two arguments on appeal. First, he argues that the State is without a statutory mechanism to ask a trial court to hold a defendant without bail following an earlier determination imposing cash bail on that same defendant where no change of circumstances exists. Essentially, defendant argues that the court cannot revisit an earlier bail determination to consider a hold-without-bail motion unless the State has new evidence to present. Defendant also argues that even if the court's August 7 determination that there was sufficient evidence of defendant's guilt to merit a hold without bail order under 13 V.S.A. § 7553 was permissible, the court nonetheless erred by not subsequently applying the § 7554 factors to ultimately determine whether defendant was bailable.

         ¶ 8. We review a trial court's decision regarding bail for abuse of discretion. State v. Hardy, 2008 VT 119, ¶ 10, 184 Vt. 618, 965 A.2d 478 (mem.). We review questions of law, such as the question presented in defendant's first argument, de novo. State v. Hance, 2006 VT 97, ¶ 6, 180 Vt. 357, 910 A.2d 874.

         ¶ 9. We first consider defendant's argument that the State is not empowered to seek a hold without bail order after an initial determination setting bail. In considering this question, we emphasize the importance of the procedural history outlined above-namely, the State asked the court to entertain an oral motion to hold without bail during defendant's bail review hearing, a hearing which was initiated by defendant filing a motion seeking review. The court declined to entertain the State's motion and instructed the State to file a written motion for consideration at a later hearing.

         ¶ 10. Defendant conceded in oral argument before this Court that the State could have argued in favor of holding defendant without bail at the bail review hearing initiated by defendant. Since defendant agrees that this argument could have been made at the review hearing, when the court was reconsidering the initial bail determination, it was not an abuse of discretion for the trial court to postpone hearing that permissible argument to a later hearing. Thus, because of the procedural history of this case and defendant's concession in oral argument, we need not consider the merits of defendant's first argument.

         ¶ 11. That said, we do find it important to acknowledge that the argument defendant raises has not yet been squarely addressed by this Court, though similar arguments have been presented at least once before. In State v. Blow, the trial court initially held the defendant without bail on the State's motion, and then, upon a motion by the State requesting review of that first bail determination, instead found the defendant bailable, and then, almost four months later, following a new motion by the State to hold without bail and the presentation of new evidence, the trial court issued an order holding the defendant without bail. 2015 VT 143, 201 Vt. 633, 135 A.3d 672 (mem.). Each new motion by the State was accompanied by a shift in the weight of the evidence, a shift that dictated the trial court's changing position on whether the defendant was bailable.

         ¶ 12. On appeal to this Court, the defendant argued that the State had only two mechanisms by which to reverse a decision finding a defendant bailable: the State could either file a motion pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 7575, which permits revocation of the right to bail under certain enumerated circumstances, or the State could appeal a trial court's bail decision to this Court pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 7556(c). Id. ΒΆ 8. We affirmed the trial court's final decision holding the defendant without bail, stating that "[n]othing in the plain ...

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