All Charges Dropped in N.H. Border Patrol Checkpoint Case 

  • A U.S. Border Patrol agent checks a car on the I-93 southbound lane on Wednesday, September 28, 2017 south of the Route 175 exit south of Lincoln. Geoff Forester / Monitor file

Concord Monitor
Published: 9/29/2018 11:38:26 PM
Modified: 9/29/2018 11:59:47 PM

The Attorney General’s Office has dropped all charges stemming from an August 2017 border patrol checkpoint after a Plymouth judge last month denied the state’s appeal.

District Court Judge Thomas Rappa Jr. ruled in May that the use of drug-sniffing dogs at a Woodstock, N.H., checkpoint conducted by Customs and Border Protection agents in conjunction with the Woodstock Police Department was unconstitutional, according to court documents. The state appealed his May decision days later.

The checkpoint was supposed to catch people attempting to cross the border illegally. However, the majority of offenses resulting from the checkpoint were drug-related, and more than a dozen people ultimately ended up facing drug possession charges for mostly small amounts of marijuana from either Woodstock police or state police.

Rappa’s May decision threw out all drug evidence the prosecution would have used in court. And with the state’s attorney general declining to appeal the decision, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, the case is closed.

“The result in these cases is a victory for civil liberties,” ACLU-NH legal director Gilles Bissonnette said in a press release. “As the Circuit Court ruled, these checkpoints flagrantly violated the New Hampshire Constitution and the Fourth Amendment.”

According to Rappa’s order, the prosecution challenged the court’s views on a motorist’s right to privacy and law enforcement’s ability to transfer probable cause between departments.

The border patrol and Woodstock police worked together on the checkpoint with the understanding that Woodstock police would take possession of any drugs seized below the federal guidelines for prosecution in federal court and bring charges in district court based on that evidence.

The state argued there was no state action because Woodstock police didn’t conduct the searches and that border patrol agents did not require probable cause to conduct searches. Prosecutors also argued that the “minimal intrusion” placed upon motorists in the checkpoints was justified due to “today’s world of mobile terrorists.”

But the ACLU argued the state did not have proof of criminal activity before stopping and searching the vehicles. Rappa agreed, noting in his May decision that if law enforcement were looking to find stowed-away humans, they could have done so with a visual inspection.

And ultimately, “the State’s argument ignores the fact that the probable cause being transferred from one agency to another must have been lawfully obtained” for it to be used in court, Rappa wrote in August.

Rappa also found the state could not prove whether one of the dogs used in the checkpoint was properly trained in drug detection and that its presence uncovered the evidence.

“For reasons that are unknown to the Court, the State neglected to address that issue with respect to the canine, Sam,” Rappa wrote. “The State’s failure to present sufficient facts to allow the Court to determine that the evidence was admissible was the State’s error, not the Court’s.”

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