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New Hampshire Court Strikes Down Interstate Roadblock
Federal roadblock set up on interstate highway declared unconstitutional by New Hampshire judge.

Roadblock photo by ChrisDag/Flickr
The controversial US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) roadblocks set up on an interstate highway in New Hampshire have been found unconstitutional. State Circuit Court Judge Thomas A. Rappa Jr last week ruled in favor of sixteen defendants who challenged the constitutionality of the Interstate 93 checkpoint set up near the town of Woodstock.

While the stop ninety miles from the Canadian border was supposed to have been set up for border enforcement purposes, the federal agents used a drug dog to sniff passing cars, resulting in several motorists being each charged with having a small amounts of marijuana in their possession.

New Hampshire's courts have prided themselves on interpreting their constitution to give residents stronger protections than those found in the federal constitution, but prosecutors insisted that the state constitution's prohibition on warrantless and suspicionless seizures did not apply either to the federal agents or the Woodstock officers who participated in the operation.

"Ignoring for the moment the issue of the primary purpose of the checkpoints, this court recognizes that if the defendants in these cases were tried in federal court for federal charges based on the current state of law the evidence seized by the CBP officers would be admissible," Judge Rappa observed.

Under state precedents, the use of drug dogs by any state police agency at a roadblock would be unconstitutional unless the officers had an articulable suspicion that a particular individual was involved in criminal activity. Judge Rappa decided that it would be inappropriate to allow federal agents to present information gathered contrary to the state constitution to uphold charges filed in state court.

"Based on the court's finding above that the evidence would be inadmissible if seized by state law enforcement officials because there was no articulable reasonable suspicion that any of these defendants was involved in criminal activity prior to the initial dog search, the court also finds that the inadmissibility of the evidence does not change based on the fact that it was seized by federal officers and then handed over to the state," Judge Rappa ruled.

Judge Rappa noted that he expected his decision to be appealed to the state Supreme Court, so he went further to recite inconsistencies in the federal agency's position for the record.

"This court finds that while the stated purpose of the checkpoints in this matter was screening for immigration violations, the primary purpose of the action was detection and seizure of drugs," Judge Rappa concluded. "The CBP was aware of that prior to setting up the checkpoints which is precisely why they felt the need to reach out to state and local agencies for assistance. In City of Indianapolis v. Edmund, the US Supreme Court argued that the primary purpose of a motor vehicle checkpoint cannot be the random detection of criminal activity such as drug detection. As such, the checkpoints were unconstitutional under both state and federal law."

A copy of the ruling is available in a 6mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File New Hampshire v. McCarthy (New Hampshire Circuit Court, 5/1/2018)

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