Two Vermont residents challenge legality of warrantless search by Border Patrol in Vermont state court

On August 12, 2018, Brandi Lena-Butterfield and Phillip Walker-Brazie were stopped by Border Patrol agents conducting a “roving patrol” in a Vermont town near the Canadian border. The agents asked for consent to conduct a search of the vehicle, which Lena-Butterfield and Walker-Brazie denied. The agents then conducted a search of the vehicle anyway, believing they had probable cause to proceed, and encountered small amounts of marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms that they believed to be in excess of state limits. They called the Vermont State Police, and charges were bought against both individuals by the Orleans County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Vermont’s constitution provides stronger protections for individual privacy than federal law and calls for a warrant or probable cause with urgent circumstances in order for law enforcement to conduct searches. As the Border Patrol agents did not comply with Vermont state protections, counsel for plaintiffs argue that the evidence seized cannot be used in state-level criminal prosecution.

The ACLU-VT is appealing the criminal charges against Walker-Brazie and Lena-Butterfield to the Vermont Supreme Court. In November 2019, a superior court judge in Orleans County ruled in favor of ACLU-VT’s request to file an interlocutory appeal, which allows them to ask for a ruling from the Supreme Court before the lower court case is complete. The justices heard arguments on December 15, 2020.

Press:

Counsel: American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont

Contact: Jay Diaz | ACLU-VT