Vermont v. FergusonAnnotate this Case
Defendants Thomas and Katherine Ferguson appealed their respective convictions for animal cruelty and a judgment for animal forfeiture, both arising from the conditions in which they kept over twenty animals in their care. In September 2017, defendants’ landlord entered their trailer to check the smoke detectors. He found the interior of the residence smelled strongly of urine and ammonia, and he observed more than two dozen animals in “questionable living conditions.” Numerous dogs were crowded into small crates and lacked access to food and water, including a nursing mother and her puppies. Birds were kept in dirty cages and their water was viscous and filled with feces, food, and feathers. Landlord took photographs and a video of some of the animals, including three dogs sharing one travel crate. Landlord, his family, and other contractors continued to do maintenance work on the property for the next month, during which time the animals remained in similar conditions. One of landlord’s contractors eventually contacted the police regarding the animals’ conditions. Defendants challenged their ultimate convictions on the basis that the affidavit prepared by a police officer in support of the search warrant that led to the charges relied on information obtained from a prior illegal search, and therefore the court should have excluded all evidence obtained as a result of the warrant. They challenged the forfeiture order on the ground that the court improperly admitted hearsay statements in the forfeiture hearing. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed as to the criminal convictions because even if the information from the challenged prior search was stricken, the remaining portions of the affidavit were sufficient to support the search warrant that led to the charges. The Court agreed that the court improperly allowed hearsay evidence in the forfeiture proceeding, and remanded for the court to reconsider its ruling without the objectionable evidence.