Skip to main content

AG Donovan: Vermont Constitution Protects Vermonters Stopped by Federal Agents

August 13, 2020

Drugs Seized in Warrantless Searches by Federal Agents Cannot Be Used as Evidence in State Prosecution

Contact: Charity R. Clark, Chief of Staff, 802-828-3171

Attorney General T.J. Donovan has filed an amicus brief with the Vermont Supreme Court arguing that the Vermont Constitution protects all Vermonters accused of a crime in state court—even when the evidence leading to the charge was initially obtained by a federal officer. The brief, filed earlier this week in State v. Walker-Brazie, argues that a person charged with a crime in state court is entitled to the protection of the Vermont Constitution. At issue is the admissibility of evidence in state court that was obtained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers without consent to search the vehicle or a warrant based on probable cause—all required under Article 11 of the Vermont Constitution.

“Vermonters are entitled to the full protections under the Vermont Constitution, regardless of which law enforcement agency is involved,” said Attorney General Donovan. “Federal government involvement does not diminish or erode the protections afforded to Vermonters under the Vermont Constitution.”

In State v. Walker-Brazie, the defendants were driving to their home in Richford, Vermont, when their vehicle was stopped by a CBP officer two miles from the U.S.-Canada border. CBP officers searched the vehicle without a warrant or the driver’s consent, which is permitted within the scope of their work. In the course of their search, the CBP officers discovered drugs that were turned over to the Vermont State Police. The defendants were then charged with drug possession in Vermont state court. Under the Vermont Constitution, however, a Vermont police officer needs to obtain a warrant based on probable cause before searching a vehicle without the driver’s consent.

The Attorney General’s amicus brief argues that the Vermont Supreme Court should apply Article 11 to determine whether evidence seized by federal officers in Vermont may be admitted in a Vermont state criminal prosecution.

A copy of the Attorney General’s amicus brief is available here.