Vt. Case Means Victory for Victims - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. Case Means Victory for Victims

Erica Marthage Erica Marthage
Cheryl Hanna Cheryl Hanna

Washington, D.C. - March 9, 2009

A county prosecutor from Vermont has won a legal battle before the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling will send a man back to prison-- reversing a Vermont Supreme Court decision.

At issue is whether a man convicted of beating his girlfriend was denied a speedy trial because he kept changing lawyers for three years.

Legal experts we consulted say they believe this is the first time ever the Vt. Supreme Court was overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

It started last year when the Vt. Supreme Court threw out Michael Brillon's conviction for beating a former girlfriend and ordered him released from prison.

The state Supreme Court agreed with Brillon that he was denied a speedy trial.

The state's high court rejected prosecutor's claims that Brillon caused the delays by repeatedly firing his lawyers.

Bennington County Prosecutor Erica Marthage appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in a ruling issued Monday she won.

"Now we can have faith in the justice system that someone isn't going to be able to do this in the future," Marthage said.

In the ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writes that Vermont's high court had made a fundamental error blaming the prosecutors for the delays because the delays were actually caused by Brillon and his lawyers.

"If you have someone that whether they're doing it consciously or not manipulates the system, it prevents that from happening which I think just increases the integrity of the judicial system," Marthage said.

Vermont Law School Professor Cheryl Hanna said, "The opinion in Brillon didn't affect just Mr. Brillon here in Vermont, but it's one that could affect ones all across the country."

Hanna says the historic ruling will set standards for similar cases in other states. She and one of her classes submitted a brief to the Supreme Court in support of the prosecutors and victims.

"They didn't take into account just Brillon's own behaviors. And they found his behaviors were significant in terms of causing those delays. Second they said you really can't count the delays caused by his counsel against the state, those are really his own problem. Those aren't caused by the state," Hanna explained.

Vermont Defender General Matt Valerio says the ruling was not unexpected. He says the ruling may actually be a relief because some judges had been unrealistically accelerating trial schedules to avoid speedy trial problems, but now that the Brillon ruling has been overturned he expects trial schedules will revert to a reasonable pace.

As for Brillon, arrest warrants were issued Monday to pick him up and get him back behind bars facing at least four more years in prison.

Brian Joyce - WCAX News

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