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Vermont Supreme Court Emphasizes Proper Procedure for Plea Colloquies

In In re Wight Manning, 2016 VT 53 (May 6, 2016), the Vermont Supreme Court reversed and remanded a sentence for DUI-4, instructing the trial court to vacate the DUI-4 sentence and resentence based on a prior, improper conviction for DUI-3.

Issue: Petitioner appealed from an order granting judgment to the State on his petition for PCR, challenging his DUI-3 conviction, after his sentencing for DUI-4 was enhanced by his DUI-3. Petitioner argued that when the trial court accepted his plea agreement for the DUI-3, it did not ensure that his guilty plea was voluntary or that it was supported by a factual basis as required by VRCrP 11(d) and (f). Petitioner sought to have the DUI-3 conviction vacated.

Holding: The Court held that the plea colloquy for Petitioner’s DUI-3 was not adequate to establish the factual basis required under Rule 11(f), and also held that the proper remedy was not to vacate the DUI-3 conviction, but rather to vacate Petitioner’s later DUI-4 sentence and resentence based on the improper DUI-3 conviction. The Court found, based on the record, that neither the change-of-plea court nor the State stated the elements of the DUI crime and that neither the court nor the State stated the factual allegations. The Court found that the change-of-plea court did not ask Petitioner if he admitted to the State’s charges or if he admitted that he was driving under the influence. While Petitioner’s conviction for DUI-3 was improper, his requested remedy would be at odds with Vermont’s established law. Because his DUI-4 sentence was enhanced based on his DUI-3 conviction, the proper remedy for an inadequate plea colloquy is to reverse and remand to vacate the DUI-4 sentence and resentence based on the new information about the DUI-3 conviction.

Concurrence and Dissent: Dooley, J. concurred and dissented, arguing that the proper course of action would be to overrule the In re Collette, 2008 VT 136 ¶8, 185 Vt. 210, 969 A.2d 101 holding, because the enhancement consequences of the DUI-3 conviction are not the only potential negative effects that the conviction might have. If the conviction is invalid, it should not continue to have the consequences for Petitioner that a valid conviction would have.

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