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.

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.

The bottom line expense of a Vermont DUI

Many who have been arrested for a DUI-First Offense in Vermont have never been in trouble with the law before.  As a result, many motorist facing such a prosecution will look online to find out what their potential penalty may be.  The result for those not well versed in the Vermont law can be shocking…2 years in jail, $1,000 fine or both.

Although the maximum penalty would be enough to scare anyone, there is a bottom line cost that most individuals can expect to pay when facing a DUI-First Offense.

License Suspension:  If convicted of a DUI, there is an automatic 90 day license suspension if you took the breath test or a 6 month suspension if you refused.  However, the suspension itself only tells one part of the story.

SR-22 Insurance:  If your license is suspended for a DUI-First Offense many insurance carriers will refuse to insure your vehicle.  Vermont requires an SR-22 form to be filled out to show that a motors is covered by sufficient insurance before they agree to reinstate your license.  The cost to have such insurance can be 3-5 times more than if you had a clean driving record.  Over the course of the three year period, that could amount to $5,000 or more added to your premium.

Fine:  Beyond the conviction, expect to pay a hefty fine if you choose to plead to a DUI charge.  Customarily, the fine will depend on your blood-alcohol-level, your conduct during the pendency of the case and your criminal record.  Although the fine may vary and can be negotiated to a certain degree, expect to pay at least a $600 fine as part of your DUI conviction.

Court Costs:  Don’t expect to get away from a DUI with just paying the suggested fine, as the State of Vermont will also tack on Court Costs, which can equal as much as 50% of the total fine.  As a result, a $600 fine will be increased by approximately $300 in court costs.

CRASH:  Any person convicted of a DUI in Vermont must complete CRASH to have their license reinstated.  There are two ways to complete CRASH, either through the weekend Course at the Clara Martin Center in White River Jct., or the weekly course at one of several locations across the State.  The cost of CRASH varies some, but expect to pay at least $450 for the course.

Counseling:  As a part of CRASH for this who are identified as higher risk, an individual convicted of a DUI must enroll in least 6 counseling sessions before they receive their certificate of completion from CRASH.  Counselors can be found through the CRASH administrator and cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $80 per one hour session.  Total cost:  $480.

License Reinstatement Fee:  You have completed all the steps and now are ready to receive your license back…not so fast, there is one more fee you have to pay to the Vermont DMV for them to reinstate your license.  Cost:  $73


APPROX $6,903 

The scenarios played out above are not a guaranteed resolution.  Each case is fact specific and may result in more or less severe consequences depending on the potential defenses that are available and the conduct of the accused.