In State v. Trowell, 2015 VT 96, (July 24, 2015), the Vermont Supreme Court upheld a conviction for assault, robbery and kidnapping.
Issue: Defendant appealed a conviction for one count of assault and robbery and one count of kidnapping, challenging an evidentiary ruling, jury instructions and the sufficiency of the evidence for a kidnapping conviction.
Holding: The evidentiary challenge concerned whether or not Defendant had opened the door to certain testimony, which he claimed was prejudicial. Without deciding whether it was properly admitted, the Vermont Supreme Court held that the evidence was harmless because it did not directly connect to Defendant, it was a very small part of the testimony, and the trial court did not allow any references to drugs.
Defendant objected that the jury instructions did not explicitly state that conflicts in evidence could raise reasonable doubt and thus preclude conviction. The Court upheld the instructions, holding that they clearly informed the jury of the reasonable doubt rule. It held that the trial court had discretion and was not required to use the language requested by Defendant.
Defendant also objected to the larceny jury instruction, arguing that it was missing an essential element, specifically that the taken property has to belong to another person. He argued the property he took did not belong to another because he was owed that money. The Court held this argument failed legally and factually. First, the Court held that a larceny charge only involves taking property “from the actual or constructive possession of another.” It was sufficient for the trial court to state that the defendant “took money from the person of [the victim].” Furthermore, it rejected the argument that there is no larceny if you are owed the property. Being owed money is not the same as already owning it, and public policy is against self-help. On a factual basis, there was no evidence that Defendant owned the money or the victim owed him any money.
Lastly, Defendant argued that there was not sufficient evidence of intent to place the victim in fear of bodily harm. The Court held there was sufficient evidence. The jury is entitled to infer intent to restrain and intent to do serious bodily injury from the same facts, and there was multiple episodes where Defendant specifically threatened bodily harm.