Judge Howard E. VanBenthusen has dismissed a drunken driving charge against a Newport woman after her defense attorney successfully argued that the involvement of the U.S. Border Patrol constituted an illegal stop.

According to court documents, Jennifer Garneau, 31, was stopped in Jan. 31 at 1:55 a.m. by Border Patrol Agent John P. Marquissee after he saw her car driving erratically. State Police were called to the scene. Garneau consented to a preliminary breath test which resulted in a .144 percent. She was then arrested by state police for suspicion of drunken driving and later pleaded not guilty to the charge in Orleans Superior Court.

 But Garneau’s defense attorney David Sleigh, of St. Johnsbury, filed a motion to dismiss the charge arguing that under Vermont’s strict rules on the enforcement of state law by federal authorities Agent Marquissee lacked the legal authority to stop Garneau.

VanBenthuysen noted in his decision to grant Sleigh’s motion that while Vermont law is more limited than other states on the involvement of federal authorities in state matters, there are special circumstances in which a federal agent can intervene including one referred to as “Exception 3” which allows federal action to “prevent an escape of someone who has committed a crime in the officer’s presence.”

The judge continued that a “common sense” reading of the statute might have supported an argument that Agent Marquissee had the authority under Exception 3 for the stop, but that argument was not made by the prosecutor handling the case – Orleans County Deputy State’s Attorney Michelle Donnelly.

“Although the state could have argued that Exception 3 covers this situation, it did not,” wrote VanBenthuysen in his ruling. “This crime having been committed in his presence, he had the right to make the stop to prevent operator from escaping e.g. driving away and endangering herself and possibly others.”

Vermont law also allows for federal authorities to enforce state law if it’s to protect somebody from bodily injury, to provide imminent assistance to someone threatened with serious bodily injury, or to prevent the escape of someone who has committed a Vermont felony.