Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State v. Edelman

Supreme Court of Vermont

September 7, 2018

State of Vermont
Walker P. Edelman

          On Appeal from Superior Court, Chittenden Unit, Criminal Division June Term, 2018 Nancy J. Waples, J. (2527-7-16 Cncr); Dennis R. Pearson, J. (276-7-16 Cncs)

          Heather J. Brochu, Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor, Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs, Montpelier, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Matthew Valerio, Defender General, and Rebecca Turner, Appellate Defender, Montpelier, for Defendant-Appellant.

          PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Skoglund, Robinson, Eaton and Carroll, JJ.

          CARROLL, JUDGE

         ¶ 1. This case asks whether Vermont's implied consent statute precludes a defendant from arguing that the results of an evidentiary breath test should be suppressed because the defendant's consent to the evidentiary breath test was not voluntary. Defendant Walker Edelman appeals a trial court order denying his motion to suppress and dismiss, in which the trial court concluded that the Legislature had effectively granted automatic and presumptive consent to an evidentiary breath test by means of the implied consent statute and therefore defendant could not challenge admission of an evidentiary breath sample as involuntarily obtained. We reverse and remand.

         ¶ 2. The facts are undisputed. Police received a tip on the evening of July 13, 2016, that a car with out-of-state license plates was having difficulty maintaining its speed and lane position. The tip identified the first three characters on the car's license plates. Shortly after receiving the tip, an officer spotted a vehicle that matched the tip's description and initiated a traffic stop. Defendant was driving the car. The officer smelled alcohol upon making contact with defendant and noted that defendant's pupils were dilated. The officer asked defendant to step out of the car so that the officer could conduct field sobriety exercises. The field sobriety exercises resulted in several clues indicating impairment. The officer also administered a preliminary breath test, which resulted in a reading of .119. The officer then arrested defendant for driving under the influence and transported him to the police station. At the station, the officer read defendant Vermont's implied consent law verbatim, including the law's provisions that the officer could request an evidentiary breath sample to be used to determine whether defendant was under the influence and that defendant could consult with an attorney before deciding whether to provide an evidentiary breath sample. Defendant indicated that he understood the language read by the officer, did not want to consult with an attorney, and would provide the requested evidentiary breath sample. Defendant's evidentiary sample indicated a blood alcohol content of .127. Defendant was subsequently charged with violating 23 V.S.A. § 1201(a)(2), operating a motor vehicle on a public highway while under the influence of intoxicating liquor.

         ¶ 3. Defendant was arraigned the next day. At his arraignment, he pled not guilty. Approximately a month later, defendant filed a motion to suppress the results of his evidentiary breath test on grounds that the sample was obtained without a warrant or valid consent in violation of both the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 11 of the Vermont Constitution. Defendant also filed a motion to dismiss the charge against him. The trial court denied both motions without an evidentiary hearing, deciding that the implied consent law provided consent to the taking of an evidentiary breath sample and defendant, therefore, could not as a matter of law argue that the sample was taken without voluntary consent. Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving the right to appeal the trial court's decision. He now appeals.

         ¶ 4. This case presents a narrow, and exclusively legal, question-whether the statutory implied consent law stands in for the requirements of Article 11 of the Vermont Constitution such that a defendant cannot challenge admission of the results of an evidentiary breath test as obtained without voluntary consent. As with any question of pure law, this Court reviews the trial court's legal conclusions in a denial of a motion to suppress de novo. State v. Coburn, 2006 VT 31, ¶ 8, 179 Vt. 448, 898 A.2d 128. We conclude that the implied consent law does not bar a voluntariness challenge. Thus, the trial court's decision that defendant could not bring a voluntariness challenge to admission of the results of his evidentiary breath test because of the implied consent statute is unsupported.

         ¶ 5. In relevant part, Vermont's implied consent law provides the following:

Every person who operates, attempts to operate, or is in actual physical control of any vehicle on a highway in this State is deemed to have given consent to an evidentiary test of that person's breath for the purpose of determining the person's alcohol concentration or the presence of other drug in the blood.

23 V.S.A. § 1202(a)(1). The evidentiary test described in this section "shall be required of a person when a law enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person was operating, attempting to operate, or in actual physical control of a vehicle" under the influence of either alcohol or another intoxicating substance. Id. § 1202(a)(3). Refusal to comply with law enforcement's reasonable request for an evidentiary breath sample may result in the civil suspension of the person's license for six months. Id. § 1202(d)(2). The refusal may also be entered into evidence against the person at any subsequent trial, and the person may be charged with the separate offense of criminal refusal if the person has a previous conviction for operating under the influence or is, at the time of refusal, "involved in an accident or collision resulting in serious bodily injury or death to another." Id. § 1202(d)(6).

         ¶ 6. In State v. McGuigan, we held that a preliminary breath test is a search for purposes of Article 11. 2008 VT 111, ¶ 11, 184 Vt. 441, 965 A.2d 511. In reaching that decision, we relied on the U.S. Supreme Court's holding in Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives' Association, 489 U.S. 602, 616-17 (1989), that an evidentiary breath test, "which generally requires the production of alveolar or 'deep lung' breath for chemical analysis," is a search for Fourth Amendment purposes. McGuigan, 2008 VT 111, ¶ 10 (quotation omitted). Thus, under McGuigan an evidentiary breath test is likewise a search for purposes of Article 11. Article 11 provides:

That the people have a right to hold themselves, their houses, papers, and possessions, free from search or seizure; and therefore warrants, without oath or affirmation first made, affording sufficient foundation for them, and whereby any officer or messenger may be commanded or required to search suspected places, or to seize any person or persons, his, her or their ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.