ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. (WFFF) — Vermont attorney David Sleigh is trying to get nearly three dozen court cases thrown out. He says the lack of speedy trial—owed to the pandemic—has a negative impact on his clients. The evidence was introduced on a virtual hearing last week.
Among the 34 cases is Katlin Parenteau’s. She’s had a pending criminal charge in the Orleans criminal division since 2019. She said the long wait for a court date is taking a toll, “not only my professional life, but my mental state.” She added: “I had to go to see a counselor to try to help recover from this altercation.”
Christian Goulet is another client. He said he’s been waiting for four years for his criminal case to be resolved. Because of this, he couldn’t join the army. “They do a background check on pending felonies and I wasn’t allowed in the military,” Goulet said.
Jessica Burke—the founder of Burke Law, a criminal defense firm in Burlington—said this is long overdue. “You have a constitutional right to a speedy trial,” Burke said. “There isn’t an exception that says in a pandemic you give up your right to a speedy trial.”
Burke has clients who have been waiting for trails for over three years. “Having a charge hanging over your head for multiple years really diminishes your ability to move forward with your life,” Burke said.
Constitutional Law Professor Jared Carter said it will be an uphill battle, but thinks they are good claims to make. “The court usually goes back and forth and asserts that the fault for the delay is either on the state or the defendant,” he said. “Here, we had a global pandemic, which is no one’s fault.”
Carter said that ongoing delays become more and more difficult for the state to justify. “In light of the fact that the governor has ended the state of emergency, and so on, what basis can the state continue to delay these trials?” Carter said. “It gets harder for the state to be successful if this continues.”
It’s not clear how many of the cases, if any, have been thrown out.