State v. Watson

Summarized by:

  • Court: Oregon Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 07-05-2013
  • Case #: S060351
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Walters, J. for the Court; Balmer, C.J.; Kistler, J.; Walters, J.; Landau, J.; and Baldwin, J.

When officers detain a person for violating a traffic law, it is reasonable to determine whether the person is licensed to continue on his or her way after the encounter ends unless the detention becomes unreasonably lengthy.

Defendant petitioned for review after the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence. Defendant was pulled over for a traffic violation. Officers opted not to issue a ticket, but further questioned Defendant while waiting for an identification and warrant check. During this questioning, officers detected the smell of marijuana. Upon searching, officers found marijuana, cocaine, and drug paraphernalia. Defendant filed a motion to suppress this evidence, which the trial court denied, and the Court of Appeals affirmed without opinion. Upon review, Defendant argued that unless the nature or condition of a driver's documents creates a reasonable basis to believe a driver has committed additional violations, the officer lacks justification to conduct further investigation. The Oregon Supreme Court held that when officers make a lawful traffic stop, they may determine whether the detainee’s driving privileges are valid unless the detention becomes unreasonably lengthy. Because the stop here was not unreasonably lengthy, officers were entitled to verify Defendant's driving privileges. Regarding the warrant check, the Court held that this check neither extended the stop nor produced incriminating evidence. It was therefore not a basis for suppression. Defendant also argued that the officers’ questioning during the check unconstitutionally protracted the stop. The Court held that, like the warrants check, the questioning did not lead to discovery of evidence, but rather the officers’ olfactory detection of marijuana. The officer therefore developed reasonable suspicion that justified further investigation, and the trial court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress. Affirmed.

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