Vermont, like most states, distinguishes criminal offenses based on their severity— the most serious crimes are felonies, while less-serious crimes are treated as misdemeanors. Felonies carry a potential penalty of more than two years and up to life in prison. (Vermont abolished the death penalty in 1972.)
This article will provide basic information on felony sentencing in Vermont, including indeterminate sentencing, sentencing alternatives, parole, and expungement options. Find information on less serious offenses in Vermont Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences.
Vermont uses what's known as "indeterminate" sentencing for felonies. This means that the sentencing judge will typically set a minimum and maximum term for the sentence—such as ten to 20 years' imprisonment. The maximum can't be more than the legal limit for the crime (as discussed below). A person's release from incarceration is dependent on the parole board.
At sentencing, the judge has a few options:
Vermont statutes set the maximum and, sometimes, minimum terms for felonies on a crime-by-crime basis rather than using a felony classification system. So, instead of seeing a crime classified as say a Class A felony, the statute will read something like:
"A person who commits the crime of aggravated sexual assault shall be imprisoned not less than ten years and a maximum term of life...."
Other examples of maximum and minimum felony sentence terms in Vermont include:
The judge can also impose fines, fees, and court costs, and usually must consider ordering restitution (payment to victims).
Vermont is one of only a handful of states that uses a unified corrections system. In most states, individuals will serve shorter sentences of less than one year in a local jail and longer sentences in state prison. But, in Vermont, the state runs correctional facilities, referred to as regional and state facilities. Offenders regardless of offense level (misdemeanor or felony) or status (pretrial or sentenced) may serve time side by side.
(Vt. Stat. tit. 13, §§ 502, 1024, 1063, 1201, 2303, 2501, 3253 (2021).)
The minimum sentence term establishes when a person becomes eligible for parole consideration. If the judge didn't impose a minimum term, the parole eligibility begins after the person serves 12 months. The maximum sentence serves as the absolute endpoint for incarceration or supervision (regardless of parole status).
Certain inmates become eligible for presumptive parole release after completing the minimum sentence and meeting good behavior requirements. For those not eligible for presumptive parole, the parole board reviews the inmate's parole application and may conduct a hearing. Vermont uses a furlough system for supervising inmates released in the community on parole.
An inmate released on parole must abide by conditions outlined in the parole agreement. Typical conditions include remaining law-abiding, not contacting victims, prohibiting the use of alcohol and drugs, and requiring attendance at counseling or treatment. A violation of these terms can result in arrest, a revocation hearing, and possibly going back to prison.
(Vt. Stat. tit. 28, §§ 501 and following (2021).)
Vermont law allows judges to impose sentencing alternatives to incarceration. Before imposing the sentence, the court must consider the nature and circumstances of the crime, as well as the defendant's criminal history, character, treatment needs, and risk to self and others.
Vermont's diversion program aims to keep certain low-level offenders out of court. A prosecutor may refer the following individuals to the program:
Offenders must voluntarily agree to participate in diversion and sign a contract. Once in the program, all records of the charges remain confidential. Upon successful completion of the program, the prosecutor dismisses the charges and, after two years, the court and law enforcement seal the record—as long as the person has remained crime-free and the court is satisfied with the person's rehabilitation. Failure to complete the program means the prosecutor can reinstitute the original charges. (Vt. Stat. tit. 3, § 164 (2021).)
If a case proceeds to court and the offender is found guilty, the court may choose to defer (hold off) sentencing and place the offender on probation, subject to terms and conditions. Deferred sentencing is not an option for "listed crimes," which excludes many felonies.
If the individual violates the terms of the deferred sentence, a judge may impose the sentence. But upon successful completion of the terms, the court strikes the adjudication of guilt, discharges the case, and expunges the entire record (from arrest to sentencing). (Vt. Stat. tit. 13, § 7041 (2021).)
For nonviolent felonies, the judge may refer a person who pled guilty to a community reparative board. Under the board's supervision, the person must complete a restorative justice program that focuses on offender accountability and repair of harm done by the offense. The offender must return to court for further sentencing if the offender fails to complete the program. (Vt. Stat. tit. 28, §§ 910, 910a (2021).)
A judge may also choose to place an offender on probation. Here, the judge imposes the sentence but holds off on sending the offender to prison. Remaining in the community is contingent on the offender's compliance with the probation terms. Conditions of supervised probation may include maintaining employment, completing community service hours, undergoing treatment, paying restitution, participating in restorative justice, and not contacting the victim.
A violation of probation can result in a modification of probation terms or revocation and incarceration. Violations are subject to review by the court. A judge can terminate probation early if the probationer's good conduct warrants it. (Vt. Stat. tit. 28, § 205 (2021).)
Supervised community sentences are defined as a "form of imprisonment to be served outside the walls of a correctional facility" and require the approval of the commissioner of corrections. These programs might include halfway houses, day centers, community work programs, residential treatment centers, house arrest, and electronic monitoring. Unlike other sentencing alternatives, the parole board (not the judge) reviews the offender's case. The offender must remain supervised for the minimum sentence term, at which time the board may continue supervision, release the offender on parole, or terminate supervision. (Vt. Stat. tit. 28, §§ 351, 352 (2021).)
Almost all states set time limits on how long prosecutors have to charge someone with a crime (known as criminal "statutes of limitations"). Vermont has various time limits depending on the offense. Some crimes—such as murder, sexual assault, and kidnapping—have no time limits and can be prosecuted at any time. But most crimes have a time limit, for instance:
The default time limit (if none is listed in statute) is three years for felonies. (Vt. Stat. tit. 13, § 4051 (2021).)
Only a dozen or so felonies qualify for expungement in Vermont. A person must generally wait at least five years to be eligible for expungement, during which time the person must have no new convictions or charges. Any intervening convictions increase the wait period. For more information on expungement, check out this website. (Vt. Stat. tit. 13, §§ 7601 and following (2021).)
If you're facing felony charges, speak with a local criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. In Vermont, most felony convictions will stay on your criminal record and could lead to serious, long-term consequences. An attorney who's familiar with the local criminal court system and cases like yours should be able to explain how the law applies to your case, advise you about the risks and advantages of plea bargaining, and help ensure that you get the best outcome possible under the circumstances.