Expanding the Vermont Traffic Stop: Know your Rights

Most people are unaware of the law related to illegal expansion following a motor vehicle stop. The police routinely perform motor vehicle stops on motorists in Vermont, which can often result in a Vermont speeding ticket, some other Vermont traffic ticket, or a criminal citation related to DUI. Most often, it is the quality of the driving itself that alerts the police to a particular vehicle. But what happens if the police use a minor traffic violation, and the resulting motor vehicle stop, as a mechanism to investigate the driver or passengers pertaining to issues that are unrelated to a Vermont speeding ticket or Vermont traffic ticket?

The vast majority of motor vehicle stops in Vermont are related to speeding and minor traffic infractions. But once a motor vehicle stop has occurred, the police are only permitted to investigate and inquire about issues directly related to the reason for the stop. They are not allowed to detain you any longer than it takes for them to issue you the ticket.

Does this mean that, following a stop based upon a speeding infraction, an officer would be forced to ignore and walk away from the obvious open alcohol container, plainly visible illegal substances, or a driver who appeared visibly intoxicated? No! The driver or occupants would clearly be in more trouble. However, if the police make no such observations, they are not allowed to use this opportunity to further inquire about other potential criminal or wrongful conduct. This is an illegal expansion.

At Chadwick Law, we not only specialize in defending Vermont speeding tickets and Vermont traffic tickets, we specialize in challenging illegal expansions. As a motorist in Vermont, be aware of your rights. If you are pulled over related to a Vermont speeding ticket or Vermont traffic ticket, politely decline to engage in conversation of issues that are not related to the stop itself and decline any requested searches. The common result of challenging a case due to an officer’s illegal expansion of a stop is that the criminal charge is dismissed. Protect yourself with awareness.

DUI checkpoints net more than just DUIs

checkpoint

The sign should read, “law compliance checkpoint ahead”, as officers are on the lookout for all types of potential criminal offenses.

A favorite tool for law enforcement in detecting drivers operating under the influence of alcohol, DUI checkpoints have long been effective in law enforcement netting arrests on busy holiday weekends such as Memorial Day and the 4th of July.  However, drivers would be remiss to believe that these checkpoints are present only to detect potential alcohol based offenses along busy Vermont roads.  Instead, in recent years, law enforcement have honed their skills to detect other offenses, such as drug consumption that can also result in a motorist be inglead off to the mobile command post to be processed for a criminal offense.

Of the most common offenses detected by law enforcement is the possession and consumption of marijuana.  Although possession of small amounts of marijuana have been decriminalized (resulting in only a civil infraction, not a criminal citation for possession of under 1 oz.), the detection of marijuana can now lead to not only a hefty fine, but also increased scrutiny by law enforcement to see if the operator is under the influence of marijuana while driving the motor vehicle.  Although this is not your standard run of the mill DUI investigation, drug recognition experts are being trained at increased levels to be able to respond quickly to a report of a potential driving while high infraction.

These offenses carry with them the same penalties as a driving under the influence of alcohol charge (maximum of 2 years in jail and loss of license for up to 6 months).  Further, even if a motorist is found not be under the influence of marijuana, but is under the age of 21, they can face up to a 6 month license suspension as a result of merely possession a small amount of marijuana.

DUI checkpoints are misleading in name and in purpose.  Law enforcement use these checkpoints to have unfettered brief contact with a magnitude of individuals to detect and arrest those suspected of violating Vermont laws.  Thus, when approaching one of these checkpoints it is important to know that all actions committed by the driver will be heavily scrutinized and that you will not be off the hook if you have not consumed alcohol, but may have something else of interest in the vehicle that a well trained Vermont law enforcement officer may be able to detect.

Smell of marijuana may not be enough for search of vehicle in Vermont

With the passage of Act 76 in the State of Vermont, decriminalizing possession of under 1 ounce of marijuana, questions have been raised as to whether or not the discovery of such an amount can still give a basis for law enforcement to search a motor vehicle.  Without owner consent, Vermont law enforcement need to meet a probable cause of criminal wrongdoing in order to receive approval from a judge for a search warrant.  Thus, given that possession of small amounts of marijuana is now considered a civil infraction, similar to a speeding ticket, challenges are beginning to surface in Vermont and surrounding states as to the lawfulness of warrants issued on a violation of ACT 76 alone.

Although the law is clear that for civil violations, officers may not detain motorists for a time that would exceed the normal time for issuing a traffic ticket, law enforcement continues to challenge this rule by attempting to expand the scope of their investigation when they claim to smell a strong odor of burnt marijuana.  However, some recent cases against search and seizure have arisen recently in Massachusetts, one most notably in      COMMONWEALTH vs. MATTHEW W. OVERMYER, which states “In sum, we are not confident, at least on this record, that a human nose can discern reliably the presence of a criminal amount of marijuana, as distinct from an amount subject only to a civil fine. In the absence of reliability, a neutral magistrate would not issue a search warrant, and therefore a warrantless search is not justified based solely on the smell of marijuana, whether burnt or unburnt.”

Thus, with the increasing number of drugged driving arrests occurring on Vermont roads, and the legalization of marijuana possession in the forefront of the Vermont legislature, it is reasonable to conclude that a substantial amount of grey area continues to exist in prosecuting such cases that can only be clarified through litigation in the Vermont County court system.

What type of insurance hit can I expect from a Vermont moving violation

The fine and the points associated with a traffic ticket only tell a small part of the total monetary story.  The financial consequences of a Vermont moving violation can encompass much more then the fine itself.  One of the biggest concerns for motorists is what type of rate increase they should expect from their auto insurance if their carrier catches wind that the motorist has been convicted of a Vermont DUI or moving violation.

According to a report written by Bankrate.com a  single speeding ticket alone can carry with it between a 19-23% hike in insurance rates.   While a DUI carries with a 93% hike, while reckless driving such as texting while driving can bring with it rate increases as much as 82%.

What is even worse for those with less the pristine driving records is that if you add up a few of these violations, many insurance companies will refuse to even offer you insurance.

Based on the real and substantial consequences of even the most benign of traffic violations, it is important for motorists to calculate what the actual cost of that Vermont DUI, speeding ticket or reckless driving conviction could bring before determining whether or not it is worth the effort and expense of fighting it in the hopes of mitigating or eliminating the collateral consequences.

 

 

As day turns to night traffic laws in Vermont become more stringent

There is a big difference between daytime speeding and nighttime speeding.  During the day officer’s will in many instances give a little more leeway to drivers who are exceeding the speed limit.  However, as the sun goes down, drivers need to beware that any speed over the speed limit may be the basis for a motor vehicle stop due to the increased risk of operators driving under the influence of alcohol during the evening and night hours.

The long held basis for a lawful motor vehicle stop in Vermont is when an officer has a reasonable and specific suspicion that an operator is violating a traffic law.  During the day, when most motorists are traveling to and from work, Vermont officer’s will often let minor violations slide.  However, even a minor issue such as traveling 5mph over the speed limit or having a license plate light out can result in the blue lights being activated at night.

As a result, motorists should be especially mindful of their operation during the nighttime hours.  As, even if they are doing nothing else wrong besides the minor traffic violation, this can still lead to a hefty ticket and significant inconvenience as they attempt to navigate the nighttime roads throughout Vermont.

 

 

Vermont Police out in force for DUI checkpoints

Drivers beware!  Vermont State Police in cooperation with local police forces will be out in mass from now until the beginning of the year conducting DUI checkpoints across the State.  These checkpoints primary objective is to detect drunk drivers, but will also be to enforce seatbelt and other Vermont motor vehicle laws.

It has been well settled in Vermont that the following provisions must be followed in order for a DUI roadblock to be considered constitutional under the 4th Amendment.

As a general rule, a DUI roadblock will pass constitutional muster if: (1) the initial stop and the contact between the officers in the field and the motorist involves an explanation of the nature of the roadblock and minimal detention of a nonimpaired driver; (2) the discretion of the officers in the field, as to the method to be utilized in selecting vehicles to be stopped, is carefully circumscribed by clear objective guidelines established by a high level administrative official; (3) the guidelines are followed in the operation of the roadblock; (4) approaching drivers are given adequate warning that there is a roadblock ahead; (5) the likelihood of apprehension, fear or surprise is dispelled by a visible display of legitimate police authority at the roadblock; and (6) vehicles are stopped on a systematic, nonrandom basis that shows drivers they are not being singled out for arbitrary reasons.  State v. Martin 496 A.2d (VT 1985)

Roadblocks have been attacked on constitutional grounds for a wide range of reasons, such as Officers detaining a motorist for longer than is necessary or for them singling out certain vehicles based on their make and model or the appearance of the driver.

If your planning on driving during the evening hours this month, be sure to check local newspapers for press releases on DUI checkpoints that are planning on being conducted.  However, as a basic rule, the assumption should be, that if your driving at night this month, expect that there will be a Vermont DUI checkpoint somewhere along your travels.

Do you need a Vermont DUI attorney to negotiate a favorable plea deal?

Many people charged with DUI in the State of Vermont will go into their initial hearing ready to take whatever resolution the State offers. For those facing a DUI-first offense, the arraignment day offer may appear attractive. Depending on the conduct of the accused, the breath test results and the circumstances of the arrest (i.e whether there was an accident) Vermont State’s Attorneys commonly offer a sentence that does not included jail if the accused has no other criminal record.

However, the imposition of suspended jail sentence or, in some cases, a fine-only resolution, only tells a small part of the punishment that will be imposed. For most, the critical component of any plea deal is the length of license suspension. This suspension can range from 30-180 days on a DUI-firt offense depending on the circumstances, which for most can impose an undue hardship on their ability to provide for themselves.

Although the suspension is scary enough, the steps that a DUI conviction brings in order to have their license reinstated can take even longer than the 180 days period if the accused individual does not take affirmative steps at the onset of their DUI arrest.

So, with all this in mind, many may ask the question of whether they need a DUI attorney to assist them in navigating the legal land minds that await in a DUI charge. Although each individual’s circumstances are different, taking a concerted, focused approached on how to navigate the system and how to challenge certain aspects of a DUI charge can make a high difference in the degree of punishment that an accused endures. The investment to be guided through this process and the benefits of taking a road to resolution with the fewest obstacles possible may be well worth the small investment it takes to have a professional travel with you through this uncertain process.

The difference between suspicion and conviction in a Vermont DUI

Although press releases will primarily focus on the allegations a police department levies against the accused in a DUI arrest, the facts as they are presented can begin to give hints as to the actual facts of the case, not just those painted by law enforcement.  In analyzing these details, potential defenses to the charges can already be investigated, giving a defendant a head start in their Vermont DUI case.

In a recent arrest, police are alleging that a woman may have been under the influence of alcohol when she was involved in a head-on collision in Warren, Vermont.  Further charges beyond the DUI may result due to the fact that the woman had two of her children in the car with her at the time of the accident.  Despite these circumstances, police have not released any further information as to the case, only that it remains under investigation.

Although police may have enough to have reached a preliminary standard of probable cause, this suspicion of criminal wrongdoing is a long ways from a conviction in a Vermont Superior Court.  Only by analyzing all the evidence as it is disclosed can a true picture be painted as to the strength of the State’s case.  Although the initial release of information looks bad in this case, there remains much to be investigated before any charges can be substantiated.

Vermont police department will release breath test results after DUI stop

One of the first legal backlashes of being arrested for DUI in Vermont is the dreaded press release police release the day after an arrest is made.  This release normally discloses the name of the individual arrested for a Vermont DUI, where the arrest occurred and a small description of the details of the arrest.  However, in many instances, the crucial evidence that supports the DUI charge, such as an individual’s performance on the field sobriety tests and their breath test results is not disclosed in the initial release.  For several police departments, this policy is about to change.

The South Burlington Police Department recently announced that they would begin disclosing the results of breath tests for those arrested for DUI. According to a report by WPTZ.com, police departments had been withholding this information due to concerns that the accused would not get a fair trial if potential jurors were able to read about the defendant’s breath test results prior to their admissibility being determined by a Vermont district court.

In a change of course, departments are now saying that transparency in these arrests is more important then keeping the results confidential.  This push was given substantial weight when governor Peter Shumlin stated that he was in favor of full disclosure.

The Vermont State Police and Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles will also be disclosing breath test results.  Although transparency in government is important, the constitutional right of an individual accused of drunk driving in Vermont trumps the press and the public’s need to know.  Numerous issues have arisen in recent years as to the breath test’s reliability.  As a result, this practice may potentially have an adverse effect on those who were under the legal limit at the time of operation, certainly not helpful in ensuring that every person is given their day in court to present a defense.