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Vermont AG sides with defendants in drug case near border

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont Attorney General is siding with defendants in a drug case whose vehicle was searched by federal agents near the Canadian border and are now being prosecuted in state court.



FILE - In this Jan. 2, 2020 file photo, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan gestures during a news conference in St. Albans, Vt. Donovan is siding with defendants in a drug case whose vehicle was searched by federal agents near the Canadian border and are now being prosecuted in state court.  In a brief filed with the Vermont Supreme Court,  Donovan argues the couple's car was searched without probable cause under state law, in violation of the Vermont Constitution. The search was legal under federal law.  (AP Photo/Wilson Ring, File)


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FILE – In this Jan. 2, 2020 file photo, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan gestures during a news conference in St. Albans, Vt. Donovan is siding with defendants in a drug case whose vehicle was searched by federal agents near the Canadian border and are now being prosecuted in state court. In a brief filed with the Vermont Supreme Court, Donovan argues the couple’s car was searched without probable cause under state law, in violation of the Vermont Constitution. The search was legal under federal law. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring, File)

In a brief filed with the Vermont Supreme Court, Attorney General T.J. Donovan argues the couple’s car was searched without probable cause under state law, in violation of the Vermont Constitution. The search was legal under federal law.

“Vermonters are entitled to the full protections under the Vermont Constitution, regardless of which law enforcement agency is involved,” said Donovan in the brief filed in support of the defendants. “Federal government involvement does not diminish or erode the protections afforded to Vermonters under the Vermont Constitution.”

The case began in August 2018 when two Vermont residents, Philip Walker-Brazie and Brandi Lena-Butterfield, were returning to their home in the border community of Richford when they were stopped by U.S. Border Patrol agents.

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. They called the Vermont State Police. The couple is now being prosecuted for drug possession in state court.

Under Vermont law, police police need to obtain a warrant based on probable cause before searching a vehicle without the driver’s consent, Donovan said.

Walker-Brazie and Lena-Butterfield are asking the court to suppress the evidence on the grounds the federal agents lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the car under state law and that Article 11 of the Vermont Constitution requires that the evidence be suppressed.

Orleans County State’s Attorney Jennifer Barrett did not reply to an emailed request for comment.

Michael McCarthy, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the agency does not comment on ongoing litigation.

The Superior Court judge refused to suppress the evidence and the defendants appealed to the state Supreme Court.

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