Appeal from Superior Court, Bennington Unit, Criminal
Division David A. Howard, J.
Tartter, Deputy State's Attorney, Montpelier, for
Matthew Valerio, Defender General, and Joshua S. O'Hara,
Appellate Defender, Montpelier, for Defendant-Appellant.
Present: Reiber, C.J., Skoglund, Robinson and Carroll, JJ.,
and Morris, Supr. J. (Ret.), Specially Assigned
1. Defendant Stephanie Berard appeals the trial court's
denial of her motion for judgment of acquittal following her
conviction for impeding or hindering a police officer. We
reverse and vacate defendant's conviction. I. Facts
2. The State presented the following evidence at trial. On
July 14, 2016, Trooper Wayne Godfrey with the Vermont State
Police directed defendant to pull over her car after he
observed her committing traffic violations. Defendant pulled
into a store parking lot, opened her door, and began to get
out. The officer told defendant to get back in her car, which
she eventually did.
3. Trooper Godfrey then approached defendant on the
driver's side of the car. Defendant asked him to call
another officer because she recognized him as someone she had
interacted with on a previous occasion, when he
"maced" her. The officer instructed defendant to
provide him with her driver's license, registration, and
proof of insurance. Defendant replied that she had the
requested documents in her car, but she would not provide
them to him and asked him to call another officer. Trooper
Godfrey continued to instruct defendant to provide the
documents, and defendant refused to provide them to him.
During their exchange, Trooper Godfrey called for another
officer. Their exchange-the officer's requesting the
documents and defendant's refusing to provide
them-proceeded for around six minutes, until the second
officer arrived. Trooper Godfrey estimated at trial that he
asked for defendant's information around twenty-two times
within those six minutes and said her delay in producing the
documents was unreasonable. As Trooper Godfrey testified and
the video shows, defendant was "[c]ombative" and
"uncooperative" and her voice was "escalated
and raised." Trooper Godfrey recalled at trial that
there had been an earlier encounter between them.
4. When the second officer arrived, defendant retrieved the
documents and extended them out of the car. At that point,
Trooper Godfrey grabbed defendant's arm and physically
pulled her out of the car. He arrested defendant for impeding
a law enforcement officer in violation of 13 V.S.A. §
5. In February 2018, defendant was found guilty following a
jury trial. She filed a motion for judgment of acquittal
pursuant to Vermont Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c). The
trial court denied the motion. The court reasoned that
defendant had no legal right to refuse to provide the
documents, and it had no basis to disturb the jury's
conclusion that defendant's refusal hindered the officer.
The trial court sentenced defendant to pay a $400 fine,
observing that "the penalty here, in large part, is the
felony conviction." Defendant timely appealed.
6. On appeal, defendant makes three arguments: the State did
not prove that defendant's refusal to provide the
documents was itself a criminal act; defendant did not hinder
the officer in investigating the alleged traffic infractions;
and extending criminal liability to failure to provide a
driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance
would render the impeding-officer statute unconstitutionally
vague. The State responds that defendant had no legal right
to refuse to provide her documents, and the refusal need not
have been a criminal act in order to constitute a violation
of the impeding-officer statute; defendant's actions did
hinder the officer in the exercise of his lawful authority;
and the trial court did not commit plain error in failing to
find that the impeding-officer statute was unconstitutionally
vague as applied to this situation.
7. We review the denial of a judgment of acquittal de novo.
State v. Ellis, 2009 VT 74, ¶ 21, 186 Vt. 232,
979 A.2d 1023. We consider "whether the evidence, when
viewed in the light most favorable to the State and excluding
any modifying evidence, fairly and reasonably tends to
convince a reasonable trier of fact that the defendant is
guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Id.
(quotation omitted). "Judgment of acquittal is
appropriate only if the State has failed to put forth any
evidence to substantiate a jury verdict." Id.
(quotation omitted). We review statutory interpretation
without deference to the trial court. Wright v.
Bradley, 2006 VT 100, ¶ 6, 180 Vt. 383, 910 A.2d
893 ("Issues of statutory interpretation are subject to
de novo review.").
8. Defendant was convicted of violating 13 V.S.A. §
3001(a), which provides: "A person who hinders [a] . . .
law enforcement . . . officer acting under the authority of
this State . . . shall be imprisoned not more than three
years or fined not more than $500.00, or both."
Violation of § 3001 is a felony. Id. § 1
(defining felony as any offense with at least two-year
9. "A person 'hinders' an officer when the
person's actions illegally interfere with the
officer's ability to perform duties within the scope of
the officer's authority." State v. Harris,
152 Vt. 507, 509, 568 A.2d 360, 361 (1989); see also
State v. Stone, 170 Vt. 496, 499, 756 A.2d 785, 788
(2000) ("We have defined 'hinder' as 'to
slow down or to make more difficult someone's progress
towards accomplishing an objective; to delay, or impede or
interfere with that person's progress.' "
(citation omitted)). In prior impeding-officer cases, the
unlawful hindering action was a substantial interference. See
State v. Neisner, 2010 VT 112, ¶ 21, 189 Vt.
160, 16 A.3d 597 (upholding impeding-officer conviction where
defendant's actions "significantly impeded"
officer); State v. Oren, 162 Vt. 331, 336, 647 A.2d
1009, 1012 (1994) (holding that when defendant blocked
officer's vehicle with her car, ran toward officer's
car while shouting obscenities, tried to grab officer's
badge, and pounded on officer's car, resulting in
officer's inability to leave until local police arrived
to help half an hour later, she "far exceeded a
reasonable response to the circumstances" and violated