Oregon Supreme Court Limits Routine Traffic Stops

BEND, Ore. - Dec. 2, 2019 - PRLog -- When an Oregon police officer pulled a man over for failing to signal a turn and lane change, he unwittingly opened an impactful legal battle in the Oregon Supreme Court.

What started as a routine traffic stop ended in an arrest, highlighting a significant problem not only in Oregon but in the nation at large. While the man searched for his drivers' license and registration, the officer asked if he had any drugs or weapons in the vehicle and requested permission to search the car. The man, who was already struggling to keep up with the officer's questions because English was not his first language, halfheartedly agreed. The officer searched the car and found a package of methamphetamine. He arrested the man immediately.

Facing drug charges, the man claimed that the methamphetamine found by the officer was inadmissible as evidence because it was seized in a search without probable cause. A local trial court denied the request. The defendant appealed. The Court of Appeals denied the request, as well, citing the "unavoidable lull" in which the officer asked his questions. Ultimately, the defendant took the issue all the way to Oregon's Supreme Court, where his request to throw out the evidence was finally approved.

In a 26-page long opinion (https://cases.justia.com/oregon/supreme-court/2019-s06611...), members of the Oregon Supreme Court discussed legal precedents and constitutional rights. Their final ruling will require police officers to stick to questions that are "reasonably related" to their future traffic stops. This means officers will no longer be able to search for a more serious offense, nor scout a driver's car for illegal guns or drugs.

Across the state, law enforcement agencies have started to respond, reviewing the ruling and creating and enacting new rules and instructions for officers. Departments across Oregon are also emphasizing that officers may still investigate more serious infractions, assuming there's a reasonable cause.

Sgt. Danny DiPetrio explains:

"If a deputy pulls someone over for a traffic violation, walks up, smells the odor of alcohol and sees blood shot eyes, poor coordination in their hands, that would establish reasonable suspicion for a DUI. Then they can inquire about that crime."

For drivers, this change is significant. Civil rights advocates suggest the ruling will protect people of color, who are randomly searched almost twice as much (https://www.opb.org/news/article/oregon-supreme-court-ban...) as white drivers during routine traffic stops.

The Supreme Court Decision presents an equal new reality to all drivers: if you are pulled over for a traffic infraction, the worst thing that will happen to you is a ticket – not an arrest.

For more information about your rights in the wake of this Supreme Court decision, consult the attorneys at Baxter Harder, LLC. They can be reached at (541) 238-9210 or online (https://www.baxterharder.com/contact-us/) at baxterharder.com.
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