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Vermont Supreme Court Holds that Vermonters Stopped by Border Patrol Agents are Protected by the Vermont Constitution

September 24, 2021

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

In a significant decision issued today, the Vermont Supreme Court held that the Vermont Constitution protects Vermonters accused of a crime in state court, even when the evidence leading to the criminal charge was first obtained by a federal border patrol agent on “roving patrol” near the Canadian border.

“I applaud the Court’s decision,” said Attorney General Donovan. “The Vermont Constitution protects Vermonters regardless of federal government involvement.”

In State v. Walker-Brazie, the defendants were driving to their home in Richford, when their vehicle was stopped by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer on Vermont Route 105, approximately 2 miles from the U.S.-Canada border. Although Article 11 of the Vermont Constitution would have required a Vermont police officer to obtain a warrant before searching defendants’ vehicle without their consent, the federal officer searched the vehicle without a warrant and discovered a small amount of marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms. The federal officer then turned the evidence over to the Vermont State Police and defendants were charged with drug possession in Vermont state court.

Attorney General Donovan filed an amicus brief in the case supporting the defendants and arguing 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 criminal prosecution.” In today’s decision, the Court agreed and held that “In Vermont courts, defendants are generally entitled to the individual rights guaranteed by the Vermont Constitution.”

The defendants in the case were represented by the Vermont ACLU. The Defender General’s Office and Migrant Justice also submitted amicus briefs supporting defendants.