The Oregon Supreme Court recently made a ruling that means a warrant will be required in more searches of vehicles. Should the Legislature change the law so searches are easier for law enforcement?
The court’s decision comes in regard to a case involving Charles Steven McCarthy. He was driving his truck in Oregon when law enforcement officers stopped him for a traffic violation.
During that stop, police believed that McCarthy and a passenger had stains on their hands that could be from handling heroin. They also were aware that McCarthy had reportedly agreed to sell heroin to a police informant in 2016, though the sale never occurred.
Police asked for permission to search the truck. McCarthy declined. Police requested help from a drug detection dog working for the Oregon State Police. The handler and dog arrived. McCarthy and his passengers were ordered to leave the truck. McCarthy was arrested for conspiracy to deliver heroin based on the 2016 investigation. The dog alerted officers to possible illegal drugs in the vehicle. Drugs were found.
Instead of applying for a search warrant, officers relied on the “automobile exception” to the warrant requirement. They could have sought a warrant but did not. McCarthy argued the evidence that the search uncovered after his arrest should be suppressed because they did not seek a warrant, perhaps using cellphones or a computer.
The Oregon Supreme Court found that “in order to justify a warrantless seizure or search of a vehicle based on exigent circumstances, the state must prove that exigent circumstances actually existed at the time of the seizure or search.” Exigent circumstances can’t just be presumed to exist because a vehicle was mobile before it was stopped, the court said.
The Legislature could get involved and seek to allow law enforcement more freedom to conduct searches. Should it?