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.

Filed Under: 4th amendment, oregon, police, pretextual stops


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 17 Dec 2019 @ 3:56pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 17 Dec 2019 @ 4:06pm

    Cops who can’t handle the idea that civil rights apply to everyone, including (alleged or suspected) criminals, should take off the uniform and find a new job.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2019 @ 1:46am

      Re:

      I've often noted to retail clerks or others who don't seem to like dealing with the public that MY job doesn't require this for a reason. Then I express sympathy for whatever they did to piss off God to have to deal with me.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2019 @ 5:06pm

    It's worth pointing out that Hermiston has less than 20,000 residents. I don't know that there were all that many big drug busts happening before this ruling.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2019 @ 5:15pm

      Re:

      Looking at a map of Hermiston, my guess is that the police aren't targeting the residents there, but instead the traffic crossing the Oregon/Washington border using I-84 and I-82. I-82 goes over a major bridge.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2019 @ 1:45am

      Re:

      It's worth pointing out that Hermiston has less than 20,000 residents

      I think fewer is the correct word here.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2019 @ 6:22pm

    "Making Their Job Harder"

    Those pesky "rights" again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2019 @ 6:24pm

    I thought it said ORGAN cops for a second there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 18 Dec 2019 @ 6:29am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 17 Dec 2019 @ 7:24pm

    Duh

    The Constitution is inconvenient to law enforcement. That is why we have it. Sucks for them to have to obey the law, occasionally.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Smartassicus the Roman, 17 Dec 2019 @ 8:07pm

    Awwww, Poor Wittle Piggies

    Maybe in their next life they should consider doing something useful, like being porkchops and bacon. OH! Sausage gravy and biscuits! Yeah, good pig.
    Oink.
    FFOink

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Madd the Sane (profile), 17 Dec 2019 @ 10:41pm

    Police Harder

    Well, we know what they need to do: Police Harder.

    The fact that they're complaining about how hard it is now to do their job suggests they weren't doing it properly to begin with. And the complaint about drunk driving suggests that they'll let the drunk drivers go as a part of malicious compliance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2019 @ 6:31am

      Re: Police Harder

      "they'll let the drunk drivers go as a part of malicious compliance"

      Sometimes they let the drunk go because it is a cop, nothing malicious about it other than the drunk might cause some damage the next time they get hammered.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 18 Dec 2019 @ 6:35am

      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>

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 18 Dec 2019 @ 7:18am

        Re: Re: Police Harder

        Of course they have a right to complain about this. Everybody has a right to complain about everything.

        They don't have a right to any sympathy from me, though.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    peter, 17 Dec 2019 @ 11:32pm

    Fase reasoning

    “So much contraband is in motion all the time in vehicles.”

    Yep. Trouble it there are many many times more vehicles in motion without any contraband.

    How to tell the difference so you minimise stopping innocent vehicles? Reasonable suspicion

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2019 @ 6:35am

      Re: Fase reasoning

      There seems to be something very juvenile about their angst seemingly caused by just thinking about the contraband out there "getting away with it".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 18 Dec 2019 @ 1:09am

    Ever wonder if pretextual traffic stops would be an issue if cops never had qualified immunity?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2019 @ 1:46am

    Nothing to hide, nothing to fear.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2019 @ 2:40am

      Re:

      That assumes honest cops, and cops that do not indulge their violent urges when they see imagined danger..

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2019 @ 6:36am

      Re:

      Does this equally apply to law enforcement?
      If so, is it due to their so called immunity?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2019 @ 8:18am

      Re:

      So tired of this worn out trope.

      If you were being serious then fuck you, sir. You're an idiot and part of the problem.

      If you were trolling then fuck you. You're still part of the problem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Thad (profile), 18 Dec 2019 @ 7:23am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bobob, 18 Dec 2019 @ 12:32pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 18 Dec 2019 @ 12:57pm

    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..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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