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Vt. high court hears warrantless Border Patrol search case

December 16, 2020 GMT

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont’s highest court is hearing an appeal in a drug case that includes evidence U.S. Border Patrol agents obtained in a warrantless search of a car.

Justices on Vermont’s Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday about whether to suppress evidence that U.S. Border Patrol agents found and seized drugs in a car that they searched without consent or a warrant, The Caledonian Record reported.

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Agents stopped Philip Walker-Brazie and Brandi Lena-Butterfield in Aug. 2018 as they were driving in Jay, Vermont, a town that borders Canada. The agents searched the car without the consent of the defendants or a warrant, as allowed under federal law, when they allegedly discovered illegal drugs.

The couple is now being prosecuted for drug possession in state court. But the Vermont American Civil Liberties Union and the state’s Attorney General T.J. Donovan said Tuesday that the evidence should not be allowed because a warrantless search is not permissible under Vermont’s constitution.

“That is a fundamental principle of our constitution. It is a protection that Vermonters are entitled to,” Donovan said in a remote press conference after the hearing, which was conducted virtually.

A 2014 Vermont court ruling allows U.S. Border Patrol agents to conduct roving searches within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the Canadian border, but in this case, the agents did not pursue federal charges. Instead, they gave the evidence to State Police, the newspaper reported.

David Tartter, an attorney for the Orleans County state’s attorney’s office, told the justices that this case is about “a perfectly legal search.”

“It’s not like people going about their everyday business are going to be subject to warrantless searches,” Tartter said during the hearing.

Vermont’s attorney general sided with the defendants’ appeal to the state’s Supreme Court in August. A Superior Court judge declined to suppress the evidence and the defendants appealed.