- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The Vermont Supreme Court on Friday ordered a new trial for a South Burlington man who helped a teenager get liquor before the 16-year-old suffered fatal injuries in an all-terrain vehicle crash.

The court found the prosecution in the trial of 29-year-old Kent Richland Jr. failed to show Richland knew Clinton Norris was 16 when Richland asked a friend to buy Norris gin in May of 2013. The justices said the trial judge erred by not telling the jury the state had to show the defendant knew Norris’ age to prove the crime.

Norris, who lived in Hinesburg and was a student at Champlain Valley High School, crashed the ATV later that night and died the next day. Authorities said he had a blood-alcohol level at nearly twice the legal limit when he crashed.

The court’s 3-2 decision amounted to a debate between the majority and two dissenters - newly appointed Justice Harold Eaton and Chief Justice Paul Reiber, over the Legislature’s intent when it amended Vermont’s law against providing alcohol to minors and the meaning of the word “knowingly.”

The law in question says, “No person shall … knowingly enable the consumption of malt or vinous beverages or spirituous liquors by a person under the age of 21.”

At Richland’s trial in the criminal court for Chittenden County, Judge Michael Kupersmith instructed jurors that to prove the crime, the state had to show Richland “knowingly enabled the victim to consume alcohol” but did not have to show Richland knew Norris was younger than 21.

The state’s attorney’s office argued that the word “knowingly” only modified the word “enabled” in the law, and did not extend to knowing the person getting the alcohol was not of legal age to drink.

The lower court agreed, but the Supreme Court reversed that interpretation, saying in the majority opinion written by Associate Justice John Dooley III that “we would distribute the term “knowingly” to all successive elements of the statute, including the age of the minor.”

The dissent, written by Eaton, called that a stretch. He argued that a closer look at the legislative history shows lawmakers “never intended to require … that a defendant know the age of the person” to whom alcohol was provided.

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