In a case that could have national implications, the Vermont Supreme Court recently ruled on police overreach. The case of Zullo v. Vermont involved a 2014 traffic stop where a young black man was pulled over while driving home from work by a state trooper. Various news reports say the officer pulled the man over for having an obstructed license plate tab. When speaking to the driver, the officer detected a faint odor of marijuana (which was decriminalized at the time) and noticed a bottle if Visine.
The driver admitted to smoking marijuana three days earlier, but did not appear intoxicated enough for the officer to conduct a sobriety test. Nevertheless, the officer used a dog trained to sniff out drugs. The man refused the officer’s request to gain access to the vehicle, so the trooper had the car impounded, leaving the man to hitchhike home. A search of the car later revealed a pipe and grinder with marijuana residue.
Protecting his Fourth Amendment right
The driver subsequently alleged that the officer had violated his Fourth Amendment right and sought monetary damages. The court rejected the both the initial premise for being pulled over (obstructed tabs is actually not against the law) and the faint odor argument because the man was obviously sober enough that the trooper did not test him.
How this will impact folks in Indiana
Indiana is nowhere near the cusp of legalizing marijuana, but according to coverage in the media, the ruling on this case could be used as precedent against the systemic issue of law enforcement’s overreach and the Fourth Amendment in Vermont as well as across the country. The trooper has since been dismissed because of his long history of illegal stops. The ruling also speaks to the many studies that confirm that minorities are more likely to be pulled over.
The case also illustrates the importance seeking legal guidance when a driver is pulled over. Attorneys are experienced at interviewing officers to determine their rationale for pulling a driver over, and may be able to determine that it is another example of police overreach.