Saturday April 20, 2013

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The Vermont Supreme Court has upheld a five to 14-year sentence for a local habitual offender.

Michael L. Carpenter, 39, of Bennington, pleaded guilty on July 8, 2011, to violating a restraining order, as well as five misdemeanor charges: resisting arrest, escaping police custody, unlawful mischief, and two counts of violating release conditions.

Because he was charged as a habitual offender for past felony convictions, the normal sentencing limits for those charges were lifted. The state can argue for up to life in prison for habitual offenders.

Carpenter appealed his sentence, arguing that the Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division should not have made his minimum sentence longer than three years, the maximum sentence for a felony charge of violating an abuse prevention order.

In an opinion issued April 12, Vermont Supreme Court Justice Brian Burgess noted that the Bennington County State’s Attorney’s Office argued that the plain language of the habitual offender law allows for the higher sentence. Because Carpenter did not object at the time of sentencing he would have to show a "plain error" occurred, which he had not done.

According to Burgess, when Carpenter pleaded guilty he did so under the habitual offender enhancement and with no agreement in place as to what could be argued for a sentence by either himself or the state.


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The state argued for him to be given 10 to 12 years to serve while Carpenter, through his attorney, argued for 23 months to seven and a half years. The judge at the trial court sentenced him to five to 14 years for violating the order and placed lesser sentences to be served concurrently for the misdemeanors.

Carpenter argued on appeal that the habitual offender enhancement does not allow the state to impose a minimum sentence that is higher than what the maximum would be under normal circumstances.

"As the State correctly points out, however, defendant failed to raise this objection at the sentencing hearing and therefore only plain error can warrant reversal on appeal," wrote Burgess. " This Court reverses for plain error ‘only in rare and extraordinary cases.’"

Burgess wrote that the standard for plain error is high and even if an error had occurred it would not have been egregious enough for the Vermont Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

"Even without the habitual-offender enhancement, defendant still faced a potential minimum sentence of nearly eight years had the court elected to impose a consecutive minimum for each separate conviction," Burgess wrote. "The sentence imposed was nothing defendant did not bargain for."

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr