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State v. Grant

Supreme Court of Vermont

December 27, 2019

State of Vermont
Timothy Grant

          On Appeal from Superior Court, Windham Unit, Criminal Division John R. Treadwell, J.

          David W. Gartenstein, Windham County Deputy State's Attorney, Brattleboro, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Daniel Stevens, Office of the Public Defender, Brattleboro, for Defendant-Appellant.

          PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Robinson, Eaton and Carroll, JJ.

          ROBINSON, J.

         ¶ 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 condition.

         ¶ 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.

         Apart 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.[1] We need not decide the level of deference generally afforded to a "good cause" determination pursuant to § 2061(d)[2] 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 legal questions).

         ¶ 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 ...

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