The state Supreme Court ruled on Friday that a Vermont couple could not be prosecuted in state court for drug offenses with evidence seized by a U.S. Border Patrol officer.
The court, in a 3-2 decision, said federal law used by the border patrol officer to search the Vermont car after it was stopped on a roving patrol just south of the Canadian border in August 2018 was not in line with the state’s constitutional guarantee. against unreasonable searches.
“Evidence obtained in violation of the Vermont Constitution may not be admitted in a prosecution trial because such evidence ‘guts out our most sacred rights, invades individual privacy, perverts our judicial process, distorts any notion of fairness and encourages official misconduct, ‘”said the majority decision, written by Judge William Cohen, citing an earlier case.
The ruling returns the criminal cases against Brandi-Lena Butterfield and Phillip Walker-Brazie, both of Richford, to lower court for reconsideration.
The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued the case in the Supreme Court, said it was an important decision protecting the rights of Vermonters.
“The strong protections of privacy and dignity enshrined in our state’s constitution are a source of pride for the state and the court ruling reaffirms and expands these rights,” said Jay Diaz, general counsel for the state. ACLU of Vermont, in a statement.
Orleans County attorney Jennifer Barrett, whose office is pursuing the case, did not immediately return a message on Friday asking for comment.
Ryan Brissette, spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said Friday the agency is reviewing the decision and would have no comment at this time.
Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan, whose office supported the defendants in the case, said the ruling shows that “the Vermont Constitution protects Vermonters regardless of federal government involvement.”
The case began in August 2018 when U.S. Border Patrol Officer Jeffery Vining, who was on a roving patrol on Vermont Highway 105 in the town of Jay, just south of the Canadian border, saw a vehicle that ‘he considered suspicious.
Vining stopped the car, which was being driven by Butterfield. Walker-Brazie was a passenger.
The officer reportedly smelled like unburned marijuana. He asked for permission to search the vehicle, which he was refused. The car was then searched by other border patrol officers using a federal law that allows warrantless searches near the border.
Research has discovered marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Border officers called Vermont State Police. The couple have been charged with drug-related offenses.
Butterfield and Walker-Brazie decided to delete the evidence seized from their car because their vehicle did not cross the border and Vining knew from Butterfield’s recording that Butterfield lived in Vermont.
The Orleans County state attorney argued the search was legal. The trial court agreed, saying Vining had reasonable suspicions because he had observed unusual activity in an area near the border that has historically been used for smuggling.
In a dissent, Supreme Court Justices Karen Carroll and Harold Eaton said the agent had acted correctly and the majority decision was “inconsistent with our dominant precedents, as well as with the jurisprudence of most others. jurisdictions “.