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Substantial – Not Technical – Compliance with VRCrP 11 is Good Enough

In In re Derrick Brown, 2015 VT 107 (August 14, 2015), the Vermont Supreme Court found that the trial court need only “substantially” comply with Rule 11 governing plea agreements, and that precise, technical compliance is not required.

Issue: Whether the trial court was required under VRCrP 11(e)(4) to inform Petitioner of his right to withdraw from a plea agreement when it sought to impose sex offender conditions recommended by the presentence investigation report that were not part of the original plea agreement.

Holding: The Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the State in a post-conviction relief proceeding. The Court found that the Court’s obligation to inform Petitioner of the right to withdraw his guilty plea did not arise because the court didn’t reject the original plea agreement, but rather sought to enact a new, amended agreement after a lengthy colloquy regarding Petitioner’s acceptance of the new conditions. The Court noted that, while the trial court could have been more explicit about what it was doing, it substantially complied with Rule 11 which (as opposed to precise technical compliance) is all that is required.

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