What rights do teens have in Vermont, to contest being issued citations for possession of alcohol?

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What rights do teens have in Vermont, to contest being issued citations for possession of alcohol?

Sherrif’s search vehicles in a parking lot during the Prom by walking from car to car, looking in with flash lights. Run the plates in vehicles they suspect have alcohol in them. They pull the teens into a seperate room to question them. Parents are never called until after the citation is issued. No breath testing done. When parents arrive they are told that all alcohol found was unopened. It’s unknown what ever happend to the recovered alcohol. Is all this totally legal, especially the questioning of teens without a parent present? And the searching of vehicles with out cause?

Asked on May 21, 2009 under Criminal Law, Vermont

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

As to the search of the vehicle.  When a car is stationary, an officer does not have to have a reasonable suspicion to approach it.  The police can exercise their rights to inquire, that is, the right to approach and visually inspect.  If in the course of this they find contraband in "plain view" they may then search the vehicle and seize the contraband.  In this instance they would argue that the contraband was the opened/unopened alcohol because it was in a car believed to be under a minor's control.

The use of a flashlight by a police officer to light what would otherwise be hidden by darkness is not important when determining whether the officer's actions were proper.  If the evidence would have been in plain view in daylight, shining a flashlight on it in darkness does not constitute an unreasonable search.  Without more specifics, however, it's hard to say for certain if the search was legal.

As for the questioning,  a juvenile can be questioned by the police without his/her parents present.  This is true so long as it is not a "custodial interrogation".  For example, the minor is removed to a different location.  Questioning can be done in a school setting but the court may well deem that setting to be custodial; any incriminating statements made may be thrown out at trial.  Since the questioning was done at the prom,  a school sponsored event, you may have an argument here.


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