The Vermont Supreme Court said a lower court judge did not punish a man for successfully completing drug court.
In an unsigned entry order issued Friday, a three-judge panel upheld the 2018 sentence of Jack P. Dickson, who received 5-12 years for assault and robbery with a dangerous weapon and providing false information to a police officer. Dickson was convicted of robbing China Kitchen in 2017, wielding a machete and wearing a Barack Obama mask. The assault and robbery charge alone carried a potential 15-year maximum, and Dickson was also convicted of two probation violations.
In his appeal, Dickson claimed that the lower court should not have noted his graduation from drug court in 2013 as an aggravating factor, arguing that drug relapses are an expected part of addiction recovery and that they should not be used as aggravating factors in sentencing.
“This argument mischaracterizes the court’s reasoning and is without merit,” the panel wrote. “On the contrary, the court accurately stated that defendant’s prior experiences in criminal court, including a drug treatment docket, made him aware of the need to seek help if he relapsed and of the potential consequences if he did not. It was not defendant’s relapse that informed the court’s sentencing decision, but rather defendant’s decision to commit assault and robbery with a dangerous weapon instead of seeking help.”
The decision went on to note that the lower court had actually weighed Dickson’s addiction as a mitigating factor.
The panel also rejected Dickson’s argument that the lower court had not proven that a prison sentence would serve as a deterrent, and therefore should not have cited the need for deterrence as a justification for the sentence. The panel wrote that the Supreme Court had long recognized deterrence as one of the “legitimate goals of criminal justice.”
“In this case, the court made findings indicating that defendant’s behavior that led to his most recent offenses represented a significant increase in the level of violence and danger to the community,” the panel wrote. “Given the circumstances of this case and defendant’s criminal history, the court acted within its discretion in citing the need for general and specific deterrence among the factors it considered in imposing a sentence significantly below the statutory maximum.”