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.

5 things not to do when pulled over by a police officer

Most motorists have experienced the sinking feeling of being pulled over by law enforcement.  For those caught for speeding or another traffic violation, the conduct on the roadside can make a huge difference in how the Vermont traffic ticket resolves if you elect to challenge the ticket.   In the event that you are pulled over by a police officer, there are five important things to avoid at all costs when the officer begins to approach your vehicle:

1)  Do not make sudden movements while waiting for the officer to approach your window:  Although these movements may seem innocent enough to you, such as shuffling around in your glove box to look for your insurance papers, these movements can make an officer uneasy when approaching the car.  An uneasy officer is a grumpy officer, which is not a good start to the initial interaction.

2)  Do not open the window just a crack so you can pass out your license and registration.  Hiding something?  An officer certainly will think so if you open the window just enough to pass out your documents.  This suspicion could rise into something far more serious if an officer thinks they detect something else, such as the smell of alcohol or marijuana.  If you have nothing to hide, show it by opening the window 100%.

3)  Don’t ignore the officer’s initial greeting:  Saying nothing when an officer comes to your vehicle and greets you is a big no-no.  You don’t have to openly confess to committing a traffic violation, but you certainly can say hello and ask the officer how their day is, a sure-fire way to start your interaction off on the right foot and to put the officer at ease in figuring out how to deal with you.

4) Don’t argue the facts of the stop.  Although the officer may in theory be wrong, the roadside is not the place to plead your case, it is a time to show professionalism and courtesy.  Arguing the merits will increase the likelihood of a ticket.  Also, keep in mind that the officer has some discretion in determining the fine, a way to ensure they do not cut you a financial break is to make a legal argument on the side of the road as to why the stop was unjustified.

5)  Don’t tip your hand as to your intent to challenge the ticket:  Want a way for the officer to remember you?  Tell them that you will see them in Court, which is exactly what you don’t want to happen.  An officer that does not show up for a ticket cannot prosecute it, which means a victory for you.  Telling them on the roadside that you intend to challenge it, will make them much more likely to appear 30-90 days down the road when the Vermont Judicial Bureau sets the matter for a hearing.

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.

Mitigate your risk after a Vermont traffic stop

In traveling to Vermont traffic courts across the State of Vermont, I have gotten to meet a lot of very good hearted, professional police officers.  I have also gotten to meet a few, how shall we say it…sour ones.  In most of these meetings I, as a Vermont traffic ticket attorney, have gotten to sit down with the officer and discuss whether we can come to a negotiated settlement prior to litigating the traffic ticket before a Vermont assistant judge.  I have found that a police officer is much more inclined to offer a favorable deal if a motorist dinot perform one of the following maneuvers when the officer made first contact with them.

1)  Show the officer a business card of law enforcement you know:  This “networking” to get out of a ticket has never worked as far as I know.  In fact, the officers that I talk to have told me that it is an insult to their professionalism when someone thinks that just because their cousin is a State Trooper in another state, that this gives them a free pass to speed or break other traffic laws in Vermont.

2) Argue the merits of the stop on the roadside:  If an officer has pulled you over, they have done so because they believe they have the evidence necessary to charge you with a traffic violation.  Putting your case on trial to the officer right after he has pulled you over will not win you points with the officer and could lead to him giving you no break on the fine and points, when they write up the ticket.

3)  Say you have an emergency when you really don’t:  Officers are understanding of emergencies.  They will even at times escort you to the hospital.  However, if you say that you need to get somewhere fast because its an emergency and the cop calls you out on it by offering an escort to the alleged place of emergency and finds out you were lying, this could be a big problem when you receive your traffic infraction.

Vermont police officers will customarily write notes on their copy of the ticket they issued you if a motorist gives them reason to remember you at a traffic ticket hearing.  These notes will jog the officer’s memory as to the encounter they had which will greatly influence their decision on whether or not they are willing to cut you a deal.  Don’t give the officer reason to remember you, the less they remember about the stop, the better chance you have at prevailing at or before trial.

Where are those Vermont police officers hiding?

Police are well trained to blend into the surrounding scenery, or least position themselves so by the time you see them, their radar has already seen you.  So where do Vermont officers like to position themselves and how can motorists prepare themselves so they can avoid a costly Vermont traffic ticket?

The speed trap: Your cruising along the highway and you see a police cruiser stationed in the medium.  No problem you think as you drive by and accelerate once the officer is out of view….Gotcha!  There is often times another officer just  a mile or two up the road.  This speed trap is meant to lull motorists into a false sense of confidence, thinking that the one police officer on this stretch of road has been avoided, so there cannot be another.  Beware of this, especially on Vermont I-91 and I-89.

The sudden change in speed limit:  Entering any Vermont village, the speed limit can suddenly drop from 40 mph to 25mph, or even worse from 50mph to 25mph.  Local police officers make a lot of money for their town positioning themselves just after this change in speed limit occurs.  This tactic is especially prevalent at the bottom of a descent.  Use those brakes!  It could save you a small fortune.

School zones while school is in:  This is an obvious one.  Speed limits can drop to as low as 15 mph in a school zone and you better believe that if there is a good place for a police officer to hide, they will be there when the kids are in school.  So heed those school zone signs, if you don’t your license could be in serious jeopardy.