‘Reasonable’ Police Knock Order Doesn’t Meet High Court Muster

Vermont Supreme Courthouse (Wikimedia Commons)

NEWPORT CITY — A city woman argued that an Orleans Superior Court judge violated her constitutional rights when he compelled her to open her door to police at any “reasonable” hour as part of conditions of release.

A Vermont Supreme Court panel agreed that the judge was wrong, sending the issue back to Orleans Superior Court for a new hearing without addressing the constitutional questions.

Stephanie Deaette was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, criminal threatening and obstruction of justice after police said she struck her neighbor on the head with a wrench in her apartment in Newport City, according to the supreme court order.

Rainville last fall released Deaette on condition that Deaette to live with her three children in a hotel in Williston under curfew from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. under the supervision of her father, who was obliged to monitor her through electronic means and to physically check on her.

The justices stated that police officers checked on Deaette two separate days, knocking on her hotel room door within the curfew hours to check on her compliance with the curfew, and calling once during those times. Police said they received no answer but could see through a window that there were lights and a television on and an unidentified person in bed, but the officers could not verify who was in the room, the justices stated.

As a result of those three attempts, the state charged Deaette with two counts of violating curfew. The state asked for a new condition of release, that Deaette be required to answer the door when law enforcement officers knock.

Orleans Superior Court held a new arraignment on those violations on Dec. 22, 2020, with Deaette opposing the new condition of release.

Deaette argued that “there was no legal justification for the condition and that compelling her to open her door would violate her rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Chapter I, Article 11 of the Vermont Constitution, the justices stated.

Deaette also argued that the condition would “expose her and her children to COVID-19 and to criminals impersonating police officers,” the justices stated.

The justices said that Judge Rainville did not hold a hearing on the situation but issued the new condition on Jan. 8, requiring that Deaette “shall respond to law enforcement and answer the door to the residence at all reasonable times.”

Deaette appealed to the supreme court, renewing her constitutional arguments and saying that the new condition wasn’t necessary.

The justices said that the courts may impose “the least restrictive combination” of conditions that will reasonably mitigate the risk of flight or to protect the public, citing Vermont statutes.

The statutes say that the court should take into account the available information about the case and the accused, risk of flight and need to protect the public, including her family connections and ties to the community, the justices said.

The justices said that there is no findings that demonstrate that the judge conducted the analysis of the case as required. The judge “failed to explain how (the condition) is reasonably necessary” to protect the public or reduce flight risk.

Without that, the justices said “the order must be reversed and the matter remanded for the court to engage in the appropriate analysis.”

The justices observed that the condition compels the defendant to answer the door “at all reasonable times,” not necessarily during the overnight curfew.

They said it’s not clear why requiring Deaette to answer the door during the day will make sure she is compliant with the overnight curfew.

The justices said that making her answer the door isn’t the least restrictive way to ensure compliance, noting that a phone call to the room might serve the same purpose.

The justices said they did not need to address the constitutional challenge.

“Because resolving the constitutional questions is not necessary for the disposition of this appeal, and because the questions may not arise after remand under the present facts, it is inappropriate to consider defendant’s constitutional arguments at this time.”

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