Appeal from Superior Court, Windham Unit, Criminal Division
John R. Treadwell, J.
W. Gartenstein, Windham County Deputy State's Attorney,
Brattleboro, for Plaintiff-Appellee.
Stevens, Office of the Public Defender, Brattleboro, for
PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Robinson, Eaton and Carroll, JJ.
1. The issue in this case is whether, as a matter of course,
every defendant charged with a misdemeanor may be ordered to
submit to fingerprinting pursuant to 20 V.S.A. §
2061(d). Under 20 V.S.A. § 2061(d), when a misdemeanor
defendant has not already provided fingerprints, a trial
court may order fingerprinting at arraignment only "for
good cause shown." The trial court here required
defendant to submit to fingerprinting, concluding that
"good cause" was established based solely on the
fact that Vermont participates in the Interstate
Identification Index System (III System), a federal database
of criminal records that requires the submission of
fingerprints. In doing so, it essentially created a blanket
rule authorizing fingerprinting in every misdemeanor case.
This is counter to the Legislature's direction, and we
therefore reverse the trial court's imposition of the
2. The underlying facts are straightforward. Defendant was
charged with one count of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor,
to which he pled not guilty. He was not fingerprinted or
photographed before arraignment. At arraignment, the State
asked the court to impose four conditions of release. The
first three conditions-to which defendant did not object-are
that he come to court when directed, keep a current address
and phone number on file with his attorney and the court
clerk, and not engage in criminal behavior. The last
condition requires defendant to "report to Brattleboro
PD for the taking of fingerprints and photographs."
Defendant objected to the final condition at his arraignment
and had the following exchange with the court:
Counsel: So Judge, we would object to the fingerprints and
photos condition. It's-the statute [20 V.S.A. §
2061] does say that good cause is required. And when a
person's being arraigned on a misdemeanor and the police
haven't taken his prints or photos yet. It's a
disorderly conduct. I don't have his record, so I
don't know that-I mean, for people without record
it's a really big deal. I don't know-I don't have
[defendant's] record. But we would object to that.
Trial court: Okay. So the court and [defense counsel] have
had this discussion all-for a number of occasions over the
past couple of weeks. The statute, as [counsel] points out,
does indicate . . . . the court must find good cause in order
to order fingerprinting at arraignment.
Since the statute was enacted to state that, Vermont has-now
participates in the Interstate Identification Index, the
Triple I, that requires that a record be
fingerprint-supported in order to be entered into the system.
The court does find-understanding [counsel] does not
agree-the court does find that the process establishes good
cause and the court will impose the conditions of release as
requested by the State, including a condition that
[defendant] report within seven days to Brattleboro Police
Department to submit fingerprints and photographs.
from pointing to Vermont's participation in the III
System, the trial court made no factual findings suggesting
that particularized good cause for fingerprinting exists in
defendant's case. It imposed the condition, which it then
stayed pending this appeal.
3. On appeal, defendant argues that the Legislature has not
seen fit to change the "good cause" requirement in
§ 2061(d) in light of Vermont's subsequent decision
to participate in the III System, that the statute requires a
particularized, case-by-case finding of good cause, and that
participants in the III System are not required to report
criminal histories in every single criminal case.
4. Because the trial court essentially adopted a legal rule
that "good cause" exists to order fingerprinting in
any misdemeanor case pursuant to § 2061(d), we review
its decision without deference. We need not decide the level of
deference generally afforded to a "good cause"
determination pursuant to § 2061(d) because, as the
State acknowledges, the trial court's ruling establishes
a rule of general applicability for what constitutes good
cause. Because the trial court's decision rests on an
essentially legal determination, it is not the kind of
case-specific individualized assessment of good cause that
might warrant deference. See State v. Dwight, 2018
VT 73, ¶ 6, 208 Vt. 29, 194 A.3d 1163 (holding that
"[t]o the extent the court's order relies on
statutory interpretation or a question of law," we
review matter without deference); State v. Collins,
2017 VT 85, ¶ 8, 205 Vt. 632, 177 A.3d 528 (explaining
that we do not defer to trial court's determination of
5. For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that §
2061(d) unambiguously requires an individualized showing of
good cause for the court to order fingerprinting in the
context of a misdemeanor arraignment, and does not authorize
a blanket rule pursuant to which courts may order
fingerprinting at arraignment in all misdemeanor cases.
Vermont's entry into the III System does not undermine
this conclusion. And the State's policy ...