Beware the Vermont criminal/traffic ticket combination

For Vermont police officers, speeding on a local road is one thing, but speeding at over two times the legal limit brings about a totally other set of circumstances.  In many cases, those motorists who are found to have been driving 30mph or more over the posted speed limit can not only face a hefty fine and up to 9 points issued on their license, but also a criminal citation to appear in court to answer to the charge of excessive speed.

In these such cases, it is important to contest both the ticket and the criminal charge, as there may be a way to resolve both for something far less than what the law prescribes.

The most common places for these double penalties to occur are in the following areas:

1)  Town center with a speed limit of 30mph or less;

2)  School zones;

3)  Hospital zones;

4) Dangerous roads that have a series of sharp curves.

A police officer holds some discretion in determining whether or not to arrest a motorist while also issuing them a ticket.  If the speed is close to the 30mph over threshold, they may cut the motors a break if the motorist is polite and their record shows few previous traffic violations.  However, do not be shocked if the officer asks you to step of your vehicle and handcuff you for this type of Vermont traffic violation.

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.

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.

Obstruction of Justice investigation commences after Vermont DUI arrest

Can someone impede a police officer’s investigation into a DUI by attempting to place themselves in the middle of an active DUI investigation?  This question is currently being analyzed by the Vermont State Police as they look into the actions of the chairwoman of a local Vermont town, who is alleged to have made several calls to the Sheriff’s Department after she learned that her friend had been arrested for DUI.

According the the Brattleboro Reformer, the incident in question arose late one evening when a Sheriff’s Deputy attempted to stop a motorist in the town of Vernon, Vermont.  The Sheriff alleged that the vehicle did not stop right away and instead pulled into a residence.  The motorist is alleged to have gotten out of her vehicle and began to walk towards the house.  The deputy then pulled his firearm and ordered the woman to stop.

After being taken into custody the station commander stated in his report that he received numerous phone calls from the chairwoman, using foul language to describe the deputy’s actions.

It is at this point, where the chairwoman may have gone too far, using her position of authority in an attempt to try and influence an investigation.

Obstruction of Justice is defined in the Vermont Statutes as:

“Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, intimidates or impedes any witness, grand or petit juror, or officer in or of any court or agency, in a contested case, of the state of Vermont, or causes bodily injury to such person or intentionally damages the property of such person on account of such person’s attendance at, deliberation at, or performance of his or her official duties in connection with a matter already heard, presently being heard or to be heard before any court or agency, in a contested case, of the state of Vermont, or corruptly or by threats or force or by any threatening letter or communication, obstructs or impedes, or endeavors to obstruct or impede the due administration of justice”  13 VSA 3015.

The key to this investigation will be whether the contact made by the chairwoman was meant to “intimidate”the officer in the administration of his duties.  Although it is not clear as to when a final report will be issued, the Vermont DUI, which stemmed this whole incident seems completely lost in what actions followed it, raising many questions as to the role town government officials should play in incidents that fall outside their scope of authority.

Frisbee golf is not a reason to let a police officer search your vehicle

Unless a motorist gives a police officer consent to search their motor vehicle, the officer must first have probable cause to apply for and receive a warrant from a Vermont judge prior to entering a vehicle.

Vermont law enforcement officers have been trained in all sorts of techniques to gain consent from motorists.  In many cases, officers will use the, “give consent or I will have your vehicle towed” tactic, which can scare a motorist into thinking they truly have no other choice but to allow a search.

However, a recent report by CNET showed that an Iowa officer may have tried to go a little too far off the cuff  when he tried to gather consent from a motorist to search his vehicle for marijuana because the driver played frisbee golf.

The entire interaction was recorded, where the officer attempted several times to get the driver to consent to a search because in his opinion, all frisbee golfers apparently smoke weed.

The motorist was not buying into the officer’s assumptions however and, after several attempts to gain access to the vehicle, the officer let the motorist go with a warning for failing to turn on his headlights.

This tactic has raised some serious concerns as to just what strategies officers are using to gain access to people’s vehicles.  If frisbee golf is such a tactic, I don’t want to know what a Grateful Dead CD will bring.

Vermont cell phone ban nets Vermont law enforcement its first arrest

Arrest number one is in the books.

Two days after the implementation of the new hand held device ban on drivers, Vermont police arrested an individual on drug possession charge after a police officer alleged to have seen the man talking on his cellphone.

The Burlington Free Press reports that this arrest was the first in Vermont that was triggered by the new law.  The man not only faces a fine for his cell phone traffic ticket, but is also facing felony marijuana charges after police claim to have located over two ounces of the drug in his vehicle.

The officer was reportedly tipped off of the drug’s presence after he approached the vehicle and have smelled marijuana in the vehicle.  When the operator refused to consent to a search, the police towed the vehicle and searched it after a warrant was approved by a local judge.

This law will likely be an expansive battle field for prosecutors and defense attorneys in the coming years.  Allowing an officer to pull someone over merely because they claim to see someone using their phone, will likely cause numerous challenges to the circumstances of the officer’s visual contact with the motorist.  Although the facts will vary widely in each case, after enough cases have been ruled on, a precedent for the validity of this law will maneuver its way through the Vermont judicial system.