The Vermont Supreme Court yesterday ruled 3-2 that police need a search warrant to search a car unless there are circumstances such as “when an officer’s safety is threatened, or evidence might be destroyed, or a suspect might flee.”
Reading that, you might think, “Well duh! That’s clear from the Fourth Amendment.”
Except that this is contrary to federal precedent, which allows officers much more latitude in searching cars without a warrant, particularly when the driver has been arrested (as had happened in this case).
The ruling, which represented a rare departure from frequent unanimity, said the state constitution provides Vermonters with greater protections from unreasonable searches and seizures than does the federal Bill of Rights.
(Actually, the federal Bill of Rights provides greater protections from unreasonable searches and seizures than does the federal government.)
Of course, this ruling has little direct impact outside Vermont, but it may provide an example of “See, it’s possible to conduct police work without trampling on rights.”
Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan is the kind of man we need all over the country serving the citizens in that role. Read his reaction to the ruling:
“Vermont has a proud history of protecting one’s privacy interest, and this is a profound example of Vermont’s uniqueness,” he said. “We’ll respect the law.”