Monday, January 14, 2008

High court rules against sex offender

The Supreme Court has ordered that a Bennington County man who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl will remain in prison to serve his two-to-10-year sentence although the man said he should have been allowed to withdraw his plea because of medication he was taking at the time.

Jeremy Amidon, 30, was first arraigned on two felony charges of sexual assault on a minor younger than 16 and a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license in June 2002. In December, the Vermont Supreme Court issued a decision which said that Amidon's guilty plea will stand.

Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage represented the state in the Supreme Court appeal.

"I think given the facts of the case and the case law out there, the court came to the right conclusion. There was nothing about this that would lead anyone to believe (Amidon) didn't knowingly and voluntarily enter a guilty plea," she said.

The case continued for more than four years with Amidon going through at least four court-appointed attorneys and allowed to withdraw a guilty plea in July 2003.

Amidon pleaded guilty again on Valentine's Day 2005 to one felony charge of sexual assault on a minor younger than 16. The other two charges were dismissed by the state.

After being granted at least one continuance, Amidon was scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 2, 2005, but one day before that, Kathleen Moore, one of his attorneys, asked to be removed from the case.

Amidon said during the hearing over whether Moore could leave the case that he would never have pleaded guilty to the charge if he hadn't been on prescribed medication.

The court ordered Amidon to undergo a competency examination. In May 2006, Amidon was found competent and in October 2006, the court rejected his request to withdraw his plea.

Amidon was sentenced three months later, more than four and a half years after charges were filed.

In his appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, Amidon argued that the court had abused its discretion by rejecting his request to withdraw his plea and erred in allowing facts from his juvenile criminal record be admitted to a pre-sentence investigation conducted by the Vermont Department of Corrections.

According to the Supreme Court's ruling, Amidon said he was unable to remember things while taking the medication and offered testimony from an expert who said it was possible the medication could make it difficult to follow court proceedings.

But the Supreme Court justices pointed out that the expert listened to an audiotape and found no evidence that Amidon's ability to make a decision was impaired.

"The court also reviewed the transcript and the audiotape of the proceeding and determined that (Amidon) appeared awake, lucid and comprehending when he informed the court that he understood the agreement, wanted to enter the guilty plea and was satisfied with the help of his attorney," the decision reads.

The Supreme Court justices agreed with the Bennington County District Court's findings that while the medication may have made it difficult for Amidon to recall the hearing later, it didn't appear to affect him during the change-of-plea hearing in February 2005.

The justices said the expert's testimony only indicated that Amidon might be impaired by the medication, but the transcript and audiotape, which indicated that Amidon was not "hesitant or fatigued," proved otherwise.

The decision said there was evidence of "possible malingering" on the part of (Amidon) so that he could further delay proceedings that had already been pending for more than four years.

The Supreme Court also rejected Amidon's contention that the inclusion of information about his juvenile record was an error by the court.

"(Amidon) fails to demonstrate that the information relied upon by the court was inaccurate or otherwise inappropriate for consideration at sentencing," the decision said.

The decision, which included no dissent, was signed by Justices Denise Johnson, Marilyn Skoglund and Brian Burgess.

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