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State v. Taylor

Supreme Court of Vermont

June 12, 2018

State of Vermont
Walter Taylor III

          APPEALED FROM: Superior Court, Windham Unit, Criminal Division DOCKET NO. 34-1-18 Wmcr

          ENTRY ORDER


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

         The State appeals from the trial court's grant of home detention for defendant Walter Taylor III. The State argues that the court abused its discretion by improperly relying on its assessment of the State's likelihood of securing a conviction as the dispositive factor in its analysis of the home detention request under 13 V.S.A. § 7554b. Because § 7554b does not authorize the trial court to hinge its home detention analysis on its assessment of the likelihood of conviction, the home detention order is reversed.

         On the basis of a series of events on January 10, 2018, defendant was charged with kidnapping with bodily injury or fear of bodily injury, 13 V.S.A. § 2405(a)(1)(C); second degree aggravated domestic assault, 13 V.S.A. § 1044(a)(1)(B); and interference with access to emergency services, 13 V.S.A. § 1031. The State sought to hold defendant without bail. See 13 V.S.A. § 7553 (establishing that defendant can be held without bail if defendant is charged with an offense punishable by life imprisonment and evidence of guilt is great).

         At the weight-of-the-evidence hearing in March 2018, the State apparently presented evidence that the complaining witness reported right after the January 10 events that defendant had physically forced her into his car by grabbing her arm and hair, slammed her right hand into the car door in the ensuing struggle, attacked her when she tried to call 911, and pulled her hair and threw her on the ground when she tried to leave after they got out of the car.[1] Her hand was swollen when she reported these events. In addition, the State presented evidence that following this incident defendant admitted that he grabbed the complaining witness with both arms around the waist and forced her into his vehicle, drove around town with her in his car, grabbed her cellphone from her and threw it near his feet on the driver's side floorboard after she tried calling 911, and then ultimately took her to the hospital when he realized she was injured.

         The defendant called the complaining witness, who testified that she could not remember the events in question. The court declined to consider the complaining witness's amnesia and declined to hear evidence supporting the alibi defense because this evidence was modifying. See State v. Sawyer, 2018 VT 43, ¶ 4, ___Vt.___, ___A.3d ___(explaining that under § 7553, State must present evidence that, "taken in the light most favorable to the State and excluding modifying evidence, can fairly and reasonably show defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" (quotation omitted)).

         The court concluded that the weight of the evidence was great and encouraged defendant to apply for home detention. Shortly thereafter, defendant applied for home detention pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 7554b, and the court issued an entry order stating:

Excluding modifying evidence, the state has a prima facie case under the 12(d) standard. The court has reservations about the ultimate strength of the state's case and is uncomfortable continuing Mr. Taylor in prison. The court is likely to put Mr. Taylor in home detention if he has a suitable residence. It is requested that DOC evaluate his proposed residence.

         After a hearing in May, the court issued a written order releasing defendant on home detention. The court analyzed the three statutory factors in § 7554b. Under the first factor (the nature of the charged offense), the court noted that defendant's charged offenses "were violent and concerning" and that, even while incarcerated, he violated his conditions of release by contacting his victim. Under the second factor (prior convictions, history of violence, health needs, history of supervision, and risk of flight), the court explained that it was "comfortable that a bracelet will alleviate any risk of flight" but emphasized that the defendant "has exhibited controlling behavior with respect to his victim in the past" and "has a concerning disciplinary record from the correctional facility." Under the third factor (risk or undue burden to third parties or public safety), the court found that "the house [defendant] proposes to live in was cluttered, " which may inhibit a law enforcement search for weapons. The court also expressed concern about the potential of defendant's minor niece also living in the house.

         After examining these factors, the court explained that its decision really came down to its assessment of the strength of the State's case-including modifying evidence that the court could not consider in its § 7553 weight-of-the-evidence determination:

To be clear, if the State's case were strong; in looking at the 7554b(b)(1-3) factors, I would not put [defendant] onto home confinement. The decision to release him is based on a concern that he may be held for an extended period and there is a reasonable possibility of dismissal or acquittal at the end of it.

         The court granted the State an interlocutory appeal and granted its motion to stay the order pending appeal.

         On appeal, the State contends that the trial court abused its discretion because it "was erroneously focused on the State's current ability to succeed at an eventual trial-despite finding for the State under the V.R.Cr.P. 12(d) standard-and failed to consider the ...

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