Vermont Supreme Court makes rulings on Bennington cases


BENNINGTON -- The Vermont Supreme Court made rulings on a number of Bennington cases during July.

The court ruled against Spencer Durham, who was convicted in 2013 of two counts of identity theft, one count of attempting to utter a false instrument, and one count of possession of stolen property. He was pulled over in Bennington the year prior by Bennington Police and found to be in possession of stolen checks written out to himself. He also gave police a false name, but then told them the truth.

Police said they suspected Durham had bought the motorcycle using checks he had forged. After going through three attorneys, Durham ultimately represented himself at trial and had moved for the information regarding the motorcycle to be barred from evidence because it was too prejudicial. The trial court disagreed and let the state present it. Part of Durham's appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court involved statements a Vermont State Police detective had made regarding the motorcycle purchase. The court ruled his statements were admissible, as was the other evidence.

The rest of Durham's appeal was based on his contention that the state did not present enough evidence to have convicted him of the crimes he was charged with. He made a motion to the trial court saying as much, and it was the lower court's denial that he was appealing. After reviewing the motion and evidence, the Vermont Supreme Court sided with the lower court's decision.

The higher court did, however, agree with Durham on his appeal of a plea agreement he entered into regarding two other dockets involving false pretenses, and false information to police. Durham wished to withdraw from the agreement, saying the only reason he entered it was because he was informed that he would have personal property seized by police returned to him. He said this did not happen and requested a hearing, which he was denied by the lower court. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed this decision and remanded it to the trial court.

The Vermont Supreme Court also ruled against an appeal filed by Joseph Castegnaro, who in July 2012 was served with an abuse prevention order, commonly known as a restraining order. It forbid him to be within 100 feet of a certain woman or have contact with her, even third part contact. Castegnaro was charged being near the woman's house, and asking a person to give her a message from him. He appealed his conviction to the trial court, saying the state had not specified when these events occurred.

The Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the time and date of the violations were not necessary elements of the crimes, and that the state had presented a number of witnesses who were fairly specific about when the events happened.

The court also ruled against John Swan, who appealed the trial court's action of suspended his license after he was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. Police found him in a van they had pulled over, along with another person. Swan argued the other person was the driver and that police were lying. He had refused to submit a breath sample when police asked.

The Vermont Supreme Court ruled that his refusal to take the test was the basis of the license suspension, but to be able to ask for the test police had to reasonable suspect he was the driver. According to the decision, police found Swan standing behind the driver's seat, and while the other person initially said she was the driver, she changed her story and denied this. This was enough for police to ask Swan for a breath sample.

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


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