The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday overturned a Vermont Supreme Court ruling that released Michael Brillon from prison because the state took too long to bring him to trial.
However, Middlebury-based attorney William Nelson, who represents Brillon, will be asking the state court to reconsider the case. "The U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the Vermont Supreme Court to handle a number of issues," Nelson said. "This is one of the issues."
Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Brillon's Sixth Amendment speedy-trial right was not violated, the state constitution had to be considered, according to Nelson. "There are some very special sections of the state constitution that deal with speedy-trial rights," Nelson said. "The state constitution guarantees speedy trials in three separate places."
Nelson said he had not yet filed a motion with the state Supreme Court, but said he intended to do so soon.
Deputy State's Attorney Tina Rainville, who argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, said she did not believe Nelson's efforts would bear fruit. "I think that the U.S. Supreme Court closed all doors," Rainville said. "I think that door has been slammed shut."
Rainville said the state will be filing a motion to re-incarcerate Brillon after the Supreme Court's opinion takes effect, which is 25 days after the decision is rendered. "After that, the case goes back to the Vermont Supreme Court, and they get to see what to do with it," Rainville said.
Vermont Law School Professor Peter Teachout said Nelson's request was possible. "As a general rule in U.S. Constitution law, state supreme courts are free to read their state constitution's protection as being greater than federal constitution protection," Teachout said. "When the Supreme Court remands a case, it basically sends a case back to the state court and tells them to proceed in a way that's not inconsistent with their ruling."
Teachout said the state Supreme Court has in the past claimed Vermont's Constitution provides greater protection than the federal constitution in regard to searches and seizures. He said, though, that the basis for this protection is typically different wording.
"The Vermont Constitution has a parallel provision to the federal constitution about the right to a speedy trial," Teachout said. "There's nothing in the history of that provision that means the Vermont framers understood that protection any differently than the federal framers."
Teachout said another factor that did not make a release likely was that the state court did not mention the state protection in its initial decision. "Giving people two bites at the same apple really isn't the best way to run a railroad," Teachout said.
Brillon was charged in 2001 with striking his girlfriend during an altercation and was held for three years while awaiting trial.
Marthage asked the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the case because she contended the Vermont court's decision blamed the state for delays caused by the defendant.
Nelson wrote in his brief that the Vermont Supreme Court was correct when it assigned blame for the case's delay to the state judicial system.
"From June 2002 to August 2003, Brillon had no representation in any real or substantial sense, owing to a failure of the state's assignment of counsel systems," Nelson wrote in the brief.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision, penned by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,, ruled that the Vermont court inaccurately charged the state with the majority of delays in the case.