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Defendants can have long jail wait before trial

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copyright the Chronicle July 26, 2017


by Joseph Gresser


NEWPORT — According to the U.S. and Vermont constitutions, anyone charged with a crime is entitled to a speedy trial by a jury of his or her peers. But that basic promise can’t be kept in Orleans County because of a lack of money for lawyers, judges, and other court employees, say those who know the system best.

At present, more than 40 people who have pled innocent to crimes in Orleans County Superior Court are behind bars waiting for their trial because they cannot make bail. Some have been waiting for years, and with a court that can manage only a few trials a month they may be waiting for quite a while longer.

The judge in Orleans County Superior Court, the Orleans County State’s Attorney, and the county’s public defender have different views of the situation, but all agree that the judicial system needs more resources if it hopes to break the logjam.

While a vast majority of criminal cases are settled through negotiations resulting in a plea agreement, the bail system was never intended as a means to pressure people to give up their right to a trial.

In fact, the Vermont Constitution gives a substantial amount of attention to the matter of bail. It specifically bans “excessive bail” and sets strict limits on the ability of a judge to hold a person without bail.

The two circumstances in which that is permitted are cases where the penalty is death or life imprisonment, or in acts of violence against another person. In either case, the judge has to determine that the evidence of guilt is strong.

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