As of November 15, Oregon police officers are barred from asking probing questions to turn routine traffic stops into snap inspections for controlled substances or firearms. The ruling comes from the Oregon Supreme Court regarding the case of Mario Arreola-Botello.
In 2015, Arreola-Botello was initially pulled over by the Beaverton police for failing to signal. During the “unavoidable lull” while he retrieved his license and registration, the officer asked probative questions having nothing to do with the stop, which led to a request to search the vehicle. Arreola-Botello consented, and soon found himself arrested after the officer discovered a package of meth.
According to Joshua Crowther, Arreola-Botello’s public defender, the officer went beyond his bounds by asking questions outside the scope of the stop, and then instigating the search.
“Under the Oregon Constitution those sorts of criminal investigations need to be justified. What that means is the state, if they’re going to interfere with your rights and seize you or stop you, they have to be able to point to facts on the record that say, here’s why we did it,” he told KGW.
The Oregon Supreme Court agreed. In their decision, they state that “an ‘unavoidable lull’ does not create an opportunity for an officer to ask unrelated questions, unless the officer can justify the inquiry on other grounds.”
Civil Rights and Police Response
Advocacy groups like the ACLU and Oregon Justice Resource Center consider the ruling a victory for civil rights.
ACLU Staff Attorney Leland Baxter-Neal told OPB “This decision closes a loophole in the protection of our constitutional rights that police had been using to conduct warrantless searches. And those searches had disproportionately targeted people of color.”
However, police representatives have gone on record that officers have still some leeway.
“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,” said Sgt. Danny DiPietro of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. “Then they can inquire about that crime.”
By Brandon Urey