Plymouth, NH – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire has filed a motion challenging the constitutionality of the border patrol checkpoints that occurred last August and September on Interstate 93 in Woodstock, New Hampshire. Woodstock is a small town (population 1,374) in the White Mountains—a popular tourist attraction—that is approximately 90 driving miles from the Canadian border.
The ACLU-NH filed this motion on behalf of 18 individuals who, during these checkpoints, were travelling in New Hampshire lawfully and were seized and searched without any suspicion that they had committed a crime. These individuals were ultimately charged with allegedly possessing small amounts of drugs for personal use. These 18 individuals are being represented by Gilles Bissonnette (Legal Director for the ACLU-NH), Professor Buzz Scherr from UNH School of Law, Mark Sisti, and Sven Wiberg. The motion is scheduled for a hearing on January 11, 2018 at 1:00 p.m. in Plymouth District Court. The motion can be found here.
As stated in the ACLU-NH’s motion, during these border patrol checkpoints, the Woodstock Police Department (“WPD”) and the New Hampshire State Police separately worked in concert with United States Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) to circumvent the independent protections provided by the New Hampshire Constitution against dog-sniff searches in the absence of a warrant or reasonable suspicion. Specifically, federal CBP agents used dog-sniff searches in situations where New Hampshire law enforcement would have been barred from conducting similar searches. Resulting evidence from these federal searches was then turned over to state law enforcement for drug prosecutions.
These unlawful searches had a considerable impact. During these checkpoints, hundreds—if not thousands—of individuals lawfully travelling in New Hampshire through the White Mountains during the summer and fall tourist seasons were illegally searched by law enforcement without any suspicion that they had committed a crime. This runs contrary to the New Hampshire Constitution’s protections against arbitrary stops and searches.
“These checkpoints flagrantly violated the New Hampshire Constitution,” said Gilles Bissonnette, the Legal Director for the ACLU-NH and co-counsel on the case. “The New Hampshire Constitution is more protective of privacy than the United States Constitution. Yet CBP, the WPD, and the State Police all ignored these added privacy protections afforded to individuals in New Hampshire. They searched and seized all the individuals at these checkpoints without any reason to believe that they had committed a crime. This is not how a free society works. There was simply no justification to conduct these searches.”
“The New Hampshire Constitution does not allow law enforcement to engage in a fishing expedition for criminal activity. Yet this is precisely what happened here,” said Buzz Scherr, a professor of law from UNH School of Law and co-counsel on the case. “The government used these checkpoints to invade the privacy of hundreds—perhaps thousands—of individuals legally travelling through the White Mountains. Given this significant intrusion, these checkpoints can only be described as the imposition of a police state. The checkpoints ignored the presumption of innocence and assumed that all those passing through were guilty of criminal activity. This ‘ends justifies the means’ approach is precisely what the New Hampshire Constitution has rejected since its inception.”