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Court Bars Pot Plants From Evidence


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They might have looked to the human eye like 27 individual marijuana plants, but in the eyes of the law, the state Supreme Court said Friday, they were "fruit of the poisonous tree."

The court Friday said a Vermont District Court judge erred when she admitted the pot plants into evidence. The court found police persuaded the suspect to lead them to the plants without first reading him his rights.

In their decision, Vermont's justices relied in part on the state Constitution and maintained a pattern of being more protective of individuals' rights than their counterparts on the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the case arising from Addison County, the court found the police -- one described only as an officer and a second who arrived later described as a state trooper -- were on solid ground when they found the remains of a marijuana cigarette or "roach" in the defendant's car.

They were still on safe legal ground when they found flakes of marijuana leaf in his sweat shirt pocket; when, with the suspect's permission, they went to search his house and found a garbage bag containing a "significant" amount of the drug; and when the defendant led them to one pot plant in his back yard.

The court found the officers crossed the line when, after placing the suspect in handcuffs, effectively placing him under arrest, they continued to question him without first reading him the Miranda warnings.

It was during that questioning that police were led through the woods to a larger pot patch.

The court followed its own legal precedents in differing from the U.S. Supreme Court, which has ruled that physical evidence discovered after police improperly fail to read a suspect his or her rights can be admissible as evidence.

Justice John Dooley III, writing the unanimous opinion, said the court's aim was not to punish the police, but merely to enforce the rule that defendants get to speak to a lawyer in a timely manner.

"The need here is not to deter," Dooley wrote. "Instead, it is to give defendant the benefit of counsel and to enforce procedures created to protect the right to counsel."

Dooley wrote that adopting the U.S. Supreme Court's standard "would create an incentive (for police) to violate Miranda. We see no justification for such a retrenchment in these circumstances."

He concluded: "Physical evidence gained from statements obtained under circumstances that violate Miranda is inadmissible in criminal proceedings as the fruit of a poisonous tree. Since it is undisputed that the marijuana plants were such fruit in this case, the District Court erred in failing to suppress them."

Newshawk: CoZmO - 420Magazine.com
Source: [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]The Burlington Free Press[/FONT] (VT)
Author: David Gram - The Associated Press
Copyright: 2007 Burlingtonfreepress.com
Website: BurlingtonFreePress.com | Vermont News
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