DUI checkpoints net more than just DUIs


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.

What is a Vermont DRE?

DRE stands for drug recognition expert.  It is an attempt by Vermont law enforcement to combat the growing concern of individuals driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana or other drugs, which is otherwise known as Driving While High (DWH).  Here is how it works.

A motorist will get pulled over by law enforcement and during their initial interaction, law enforcement will note that they recognize certain clues of impairment (blood shot eyes, confusion, seating, nervousness etc..)  Based on these observations, the officer will inquire if the motorist has consumed any alcohol or drugs recently.  If the motorist admits to some form of consumption of drugs, the officer may, along with their observations, have enough evidence to perform certain tests aimed at detecting drug impairment.

In order to perform these tests, an officer needs to have specialized training that certifies them as a DRE.  Although prosecutors have attempted to enter DRE testimony into evidence at trial, there is still substantial question as to whether the training the officers have received is sufficient to qualify them as an expert and whether their testimony alone is sufficient to uphold a conviction for DWH.

According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, there are currently 35 officers across the State of Vermont that have been certified as a Vermont Drug Recognition Expert, with the aim of having an increased number of officers take the two day training each year.  The  additional training offered to law enforcement is beginning to see dividends for enforcing DWH laws as in 2014 it was reported that officers conducted 214 evaluations, a steady increase from previous years.

With marijuana legalization making its way through the Vermont legislature and additional tools being added to the arsenal of Vermont law enforcement, motorists will need to become increasingly cautious as to their driving if they have ingested drugs or alcohol recently. It appears that Drug Recognition Experts are only one small part of a significantly wider net law enforcement will be casting when they commence a DWH or DWI investigation that could ensnare many motorists who do now know the DWH laws in the State of Vermont.



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.

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.