Saturday, July 15, 2006

Occasionally a judge gets it right. Judge Robert Bent appears to be among those who values liberty and recognizes that only by insisting upon proper law enforcement techniques can we hope to preserve liberty in this nation.

These days, citizens increasingly rely upon their states to respect and preserve individual rights, as the United States Supreme Court continues to strip away the rights and freedoms of our citizens one ruling at a time.

Judge rejects U.S. Supreme Court search ruling

July 11, 2006

Vermont judge rejects U.S. Supreme Court search ruling

GUILDHALL, Vt. --A Vermont District Court judge has rejected a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the power of police to search a private home, concluding that the state offers greater protections in such cases.

Judge Robert Bent said that under the state Constitution police must knock and announce themselves before conducting a search, even if they have a warrant, or face the prospect that any evidence they find could be thrown out.

The Supreme Court said June 15 that evidence obtained without first knocking could be used at trial, but Bent said that would not apply in Vermont.

"Evidence obtained in violation of the Vermont Constitution, or as the result of a violation, cannot be admitted at trial as a matter of state law," Bent wrote, citing an earlier state case as precedent. "Introduction of such evidence at trial eviscerates our most sacred rights, impinges on individual privacy, perverts our judicial process, distorts any notion of fairness and encourages official misconduct."

A defense lawyer in the Vermont case said Bent's ruling was an important statement. "Sanity prevails in Vermont," said attorney David Williams.

Bent agreed with the dissenting opinion in the federal case, which said allowing otherwise illegally obtained evidence to be used could lead law enforcement officers to ignore the law.

"The exclusionary remedy should remain in full force and effect," Bent wrote, "at least in our small corner of the nation."

Unless the attorney general's office appeals Bent's ruling to the Vermont Supreme Court, it applies only to the drug case he was hearing and would not be binding on other judges, legal experts said. But other judges are likely to take it into consideration if they have similar issues, said Cheryl Hannah, a Vermont Law School professor.

It was unclear whether the state would appeal to the high court. The prosecutor on the case was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

Williams challenged evidence the Vermont State Police Drug Task Force obtained against Ellen Sheltra last fall during a raid on her Island Pond home. She was charged with marijuana possession.

The officers were gathering in front of the home Oct. 12 when the door suddenly opened, an officer testified. The agents shouted "state police with a search warrant" and stormed inside, Bent wrote in his ruling.

The judge concluded the officer's testimony wasn't credible, noting that the three adults and two children in the house said they did not open the door.

Police seized 88 grams of marijuana and four guns.

Information from: The Burlington Free Press,

© 2006 Associated Press.

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