On August 11, 2020, ACLU affiliates in New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont filed a federal lawsuit challenging the use of unconstitutional border patrol checkpoints that frequently occur on I-93 in Woodstock, New Hampshire and elsewhere in northern New England. During these checkpoints, Border Patrol detains hundreds – if not thousands – of individuals lawfully travelling in northern New England during the summer and fall tourist seasons without any suspicion that they have committed a crime.
The ACLU affiliates, with client Jesse Drewniak, argue these checkpoints – conducted for the primary purpose of general crime control and drug interdiction – are beyond the scope of Border Patrol’s authority. The lawsuit also asks that the court immediately stop Border Patrol from conducting these illegal checkpoints in Woodstock — a small town (population 1,374) in the White Mountains that is approximately 90 driving miles from the Canadian border. Drewniak is also represented by Scott Harris, Steven Dutton, and Jeremy Walker of McLane Middleton, as well as Mark Sisti and Albert “Buzz” Scherr.
Border Patrol is charged with protecting the border. It is unconstitutional for Border Patrol to use interior checkpoints, nearly 100 miles from the border, as a ruse to unlawfully search and seize people for the purpose of general crime control. Yet this is exactly what Border Patrol is doing with checkpoints in northern New England. Indeed, these checkpoints are yet another example of Customs and Border Protection acting lawlessly. In the past several months alone, we have seen the federal government deploy CBP agents to monitor protesters in Minneapolis and Washington D.C. after the police murder of George Floyd. Then we saw CBP act as paramilitary forces in Portland, Oregon to crack down on protesters in the area. These checkpoints in northern New England are no different. CBP is using its forces nearly 100 miles from the border for general crime control, which is beyond the scope of CBP’s statutory and constitutional authority.
Drewniak, a United States citizen residing in Hudson, New Hampshire, was one of the persons ensnared in an August 2017 checkpoint in Woodstock. He was travelling home from a fly-fishing trip in the White Mountains, where he goes at least 50 times during fishing season to fish, forage, hike, and swim.
This federal lawsuit follows a major ACLU victory that stemmed from illegal searches and seizures that occurred during the August 2017 checkpoint in Woodstock. In that case, sixteen people who were charged with the violation-level offense of possessing small amounts of drugs for personal use (mostly marijuana) – including Drewniak – challenged the checkpoint’s constitutionality. In May of 2018, the Plymouth Circuit Court concluded that “the primary purpose of the [August 2017 checkpoint] was detection and seizure of drugs,” thereby making the checkpoints “unconstitutional under both State and federal law.” As a result, the Court suppressed all evidence obtained from the checkpoint. The State then dismissed all charges against the 16 individuals in September of 2018.
Despite this court victory declaring the August 2017 checkpoint unconstitutional, Border Patrol has continued these checkpoints in northern New England, which is why this lawsuit is necessary.