Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New Hampshire has a state constitution

The New Hampshire Supreme Court held in State v. Boutin, No. 2008-813 (N.H. 11/24/2010), that its state constitution puts specific restrictions on officers conducting community caretaking stops:

The defendant argues that the seizure violated his rights under Part I, Article 19 of the New Hampshire Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. We consider his arguments first under the State Constitution, using federal cases only to aid in our analysis. See State v. Sawyer, 147 N.H. 191, 193 (2001). Part I, Article 19 of the New Hampshire Constitution provides that every citizen has “a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches and seizures of his person, his houses, his papers, and all his possessions.”

. . . .

In this case, the officer testified that he approached Boutin’s vehicle, “[j]ust to see if everything – if anything was wrong, make sure everything was okay.” He testified that he could not tell if there was an accident, if the vehicle was abandoned or if any occupants may have needed assistance or had health concerns. He also observed that Boutin’s vehicle was pulled off to the side of the road, but facing the wrong way. As in Boyle, while the officer may have had generalized concerns about the vehicle and its potential occupants, he did not describe any specific and articulable facts that justified the intrusion of Boutin’s protected interests. Boutin’s car was parked legally in a pull-off area and the officer did not observe any obvious signs of an accident, that the car was disabled, or that the passengers were in any type of distress. In short, the officer’s concerns amounted to little more than a hunch. While the officer testified that he was concerned in part because it was dark and snow covered the ground, “[w]inters are traditionally long in [New Hampshire], and we cannot adhere to a theory that essentially renders [Part I, Article 19] protections seasonal.”

Because we conclude that Boutin prevails under the State Constitution, we need not reach the federal issue.

This seems to me to be the right method of analysis. First, consider the claim independently under the state constitution. If necessary, consider the claim under the federal constitution. It's the only way to really show any fealty to the state constitution.

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