Oregon Cops Complain State Supreme Court's Traffic Stop Decision Is Making Their Job Harder

from the respecting-rights-is-a-drain-on-productivity dept

Oregon’s Supreme Court threw local law enforcement for a loop by removing the pretext from “pretextual stop.” The ruling handed down late last month went further than the US Supreme Court’s Rodriguez decision. The SCOTUS decision simply said traffic stops can’t be extended without reasonable suspicion. When a citation or warning is handed out, the stop ends.

The Oregon ruling expanded on that. The court said that if a cop stops someone for speeding, they’d better stay focused on the speeding. In the case before them, an officer testified he always asked drivers a bunch of questions unrelated to the traffic stop when conducting traffic stops. The state’s top court said that’s no longer permissible. The “unavoidable lull” during traffic stops can now only be used to ask questions related to the purpose of the stop, rather than to fish for consent to a search or to extend the stop until reasonable suspicion of some other criminal act develops.

This is a pretty drastic change and it’s already resulted in the dismissal of a drug bust apparently stemming from a pretextual stop.

Johnathan Chavez, 30, of Variello, California was stopped on northbound Interstate 5 in December 2018 with more than four and a half pounds of methamphetamine, according to court documents filed by Oregon State Police in Jackson County Circuit Court. In October, the case went to a jury, who found Chavez guilty on felony counts of delivering and possessing methamphetamine.

This week, however, Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Johan Pietila moved to dismiss the charges pursuant to a recent Oregon Supreme Court opinion.

A wave of new “technicalities” is poised to sweep Oregon courtrooms, where prosecutors will find their cases have been hampered by law enforcement officers more interested in turning routine stops into drug-related expeditions than in enforcing traffic laws.

Needless to say, cops aren’t fans of the ruling. Here’s what Washington County Sheriff spokesman Danny DiPietro told CNN: cops will have to alter their traffic stop patter.

“If we see the individual and they have bloodshot watery eyes, flushed looks … and we believe that they’re under the influence of alcohol then we establish what’s called reasonable suspicion,” he said.

How much patter is allowed is apparently unclear.

But the problem with the ruling, he says, is it doesn’t specify what they are and aren’t allowed to say.

“We haven’t gotten complete clarification on that and that’s what’s frustrating,” he said. “We don’t want to be robotic.”

This probably isn’t a deliberate misreading of the opinion. But the opinion is actually very clear: no questions not supported by reasonable suspicion. If suspicion is present, cops are free to explore that conversation tree. If not, cops can’t pepper drivers with questions in hopes of developing enough suspicion to take the traffic stop further.

Another Oregon law enforcement official is convinced the ruling will allow criminals to freely travel public roads without fear of police interference.

The Hermiston Police Department is prepared to comply, according to Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston.

“This is going to further hinder the ability to stop potential criminal activity in motion,” He said. “So much contraband is in motion all the time in vehicles.”

He said the ruling could eventually cause a decline in DUI enforcement.

Chief Edmiston isn’t wrong. Plenty of contraband is in motion at all times. But plenty of contraband is also motionless, stashed away in people’s houses at all times. And cops aren’t allowed to go from house to house knocking on doors and hoping residents will let them in without a warrant. Cops need a reason to approach someone’s house. The contours of the Fourth Amendment shouldn’t drastically change just because someone decided to drive from point A to point B.

As for DUI enforcement, it seems pretty clear the physical manifestations of intoxication are reasonably suspicious enough to allow a traffic stop for a minor infraction to develop into a roadside DUI investigation.

The decision does make it more difficult for officers to do their jobs they way they’re used to doing their jobs. It does not make it more difficult for them to do their jobs properly. The Constitution hasn’t changed. What has changed is the jurisprudence surrounding it. Over the years, cops have been given a lot of slack when it comes to traffic stops and searches of vehicles on public roads. This ruling only reels in a bit of the line. It won’t create more criminals or encourage existing criminals to carry more contraband more often. All it really does is prevent cops from treating a large percentage of routine traffic stops as the first step in a spontaneous criminal investigation.

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Comments on “Oregon Cops Complain State Supreme Court's Traffic Stop Decision Is Making Their Job Harder”

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28 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Gonna get calluses with all this nano-violin playing...

This is going to further hinder the ability to stop potential criminal activity in motion,” He said. “So much contraband is in motion all the time in vehicles.”

Yes, constitutional rights and that pesky ‘privacy’ thing do have a tendency to do that, however if that’s too high a hurdle for you might I suggest finding a different job, one not so difficult?

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I thought it said ORGAN cops for a second there.

The Organ cops have the right to seize your internal vital organs and those of your passengers. Otherwise, you are free to go. You agreed to this as one of the conditions of obtaining a driver license.

Your organs might be guilty and must be seized until you can prove otherwise, at which point your organs or reasonably equivalent replacements might be returned.

The Organ Cops are difficult to spot because they have the ability to take human form.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Police Harder

<no-sarcasm>
Police have no right to complain about this.

They brought it on themselves.

At first they think they can bend the rules a little bit. Then a bit more. Then bend and stretch the rules until we’re now miles and miles away from where we started. Then the courts step in and correct that.

Courts only uphold rights when the cops have gone so far over the line that there needs to be a fence erected to protect everyone. They have only themselves to blame.

Because someone has to police the police. When that becomes necessary one has to wonder if we would be safer without police.
</no-sarcasm>

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Thad (profile) says:

Lots of things make lots of jobs harder. Food safety regulations, OSHA guidelines, truth-in-advertising laws, HIPAA, emissions requirements, the ADA, bans on lead paint.

I’ve got no sympathy for a fast food worker complaining that he has to wash his hands before he makes my sandwich, and I’ve got no sympathy for a police officer complaining that he has to obey the Constitution.

In fact, if I hear a fast food worker complaining that he has to wash his hands, I’m probably going to find somewhere else to eat. If I hear a police officer complaining about his duty to obey the Constitution, unfortunately I don’t have the option of taking my business elsewhere.

bobob says:

Hold on a second while I get my violins…

When people object to a ruling like this one because it apparently doesn’t supply the exact wording of what the cops are allowed to say, it’s because they choose to confuse the issue to create obstacles to enforcing the ruling, (or, at worst, the cops complaining about this are so illiterate as to require the exact wording for lack of a large enough vocabulary to know the actual meaning of the words they use everyday.)

On the otherhand, if this was spelled out for them (like it was with the Miranda ruling), they would come up with another way to misconstrue the ruling as so specific that leaving out a word lets criminals walk free, which just as bogus. The public loses no matter what.

ECA (profile) says:

Dear officer..

If I had the mentality as many police tend to do..
I would trade you the Jobs in retail for Anything that you do.
Trying to put-up, deal, help, talk to,and all the rest, Most humans, is tiresome..let alone trying to Smile with this person is showing they are an idiot to the n^th degree.

Having any knowledge of the many products on the display floor,and being able to answer almost any question a customer may have, isnt always easy. Then trying to get them to understand that using Latex, on a basement Floor, ISNT going to stick.. Or that when you place an Anchor in a wall, ti hold up a 40 pound Glass mirror, it would be nice to know what the wall is made of, and where the nearest Stud (not your husband/boyfriend) is..
needing to know that there are Groups of sizes, and Size 7 means nothing with out the group, is erroneous.. Children’s, Baby, child, teen, Adult.. Long, short, Full length on and on.. Lets just use 1 general measurement with a few other words PLEASE.. 40cm long would be easy..

I know your job is hard and the paranoia is Rampant, but you get a gun and can threaten them with Force and a jail cell..I CANT..

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