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.