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Criminal Division

Criminal  Cases

Franklin District/Family Courthouse


In a criminal case, the defendant is accused by the government (the plaintiff) of violating state law. Crimes are divided into 2 categories: felonies and misdemeanors. Felonies are crimes, such as armed robbery, murder or sexual assault, for which a person could be jailed for two or more years if convicted. Misdemeanors are crimes resulting in a maximum sentence of less than 2 years; examples of misdemeanors include petty larceny, driving while intoxicated and simple assault.

The government is always represented by a lawyer, the state's attorney, who prosecutes the charge(s) against the defendant. Some defendants hire an attorney to act on their behalf in court while others represent themselves. In Vermont, defendants who are unable to afford an attorney and face severe sentences if convicted may ask the Court to assign a public defender to represent them; if the request is approved, the state will pay some, or all, of the attorney's fees.

The Constitution guarantees defendants the right to have a jury determine whether they are guilty. A judge may decide the case if the defendant gives up his/her right to a trial by jury. Regardless of who makes the decision, the state's attorney must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of committing the crime. Once guilt has been established, the judge determines an appropriate punishment.

Not all criminal charges result in a trial. The judge may dismiss a charge because there is not enough evidence to justify prosecuting the case. A defendant may plead guilty before a trial occurs. Some charges are dismissed by the state's attorney.