Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Vermont has a state constitution

Hat tip to FourthAmendment.com. In State v. Brichard, No. 2008-477 (Vt. 2010), the Vermont Supreme Court applied Article 11 of its constitution to hold that a warrantless search of a backpack was illegal:

Vermont law ordinarily requires suppression of evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search. While federal law has developed some exceptions removing impediments to expedient law enforcement operations, this Court has been more conservative in its adherence to the values underlying Article 11. As a result, Vermont law resolutely maintains that law enforcement must seek, and a magistrate must grant, a search warrant prior to investigating the contents of a person’s home, vehicle, or personal effects.

Under the Vermont Constitution, unlike the federal constitution, protection against warrantless searches extends to automobiles. To search a vehicle without a warrant, we have so far held there must be probable cause and exigency. Law enforcement officers may not search a vehicle without a warrant once the occupant has been put into police custody, absent a need to protect officers or preserve evidence of a crime. We have held that the latter requirement also requires some showing of exceptional circumstances. The mobility of a car or its contents is not per se an exigent circumstance. Similarly, the fact that a container for which the police have probable cause is found in a vehicle does not, in and of itself, constitute an exigency or other exception sufficient to dispense with the warrant requirement and invade an otherwise legitimate and reasonable expectation of privacy in that container.
Article 11 of the Vermont Constitution provides the following:
That the people have a right to hold themselves, their houses, papers, and possessions, free from search or seizure; and therefore warrants, without oath or affirmation first made, affording sufficient foundation for them, and whereby by any officer or messenger may be commanded or required to search suspected places, or to seize any person or persons, his, her or their property, not particularly described, are contrary to that right, and ought not to be granted.

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