11/11/2014Oregon Appeals Court Revisits Car Impounded In Driveway
Oregon Court of Appeals says police should have known it was illegal to impound and search a car parked on the property of the owner.
After seven years, the second-highest court in Oregon has resolved the question of whether a police officer may impound an automobile that is parked in the owner's driveway. The Oregon Court of Appeals for the third time took up the case of Richard Chaves Gonzales, who reached his own driveway before Cornelius Police Department Officer Blood could perform a traffic stop.
Gonzales had been driving on a suspended license, so Officer Blood used the impounding of his vehicle as an excuse to perform a warrantless search. In 2010, the three-judge appellate panel ruled that the impounding of the vehicle was not appropriate (view opinion). Last month, the appellate court rejected the contention of prosecutors that the evidence turned up during the search should be admitted in court under the "good faith exception."
By impounding the car, Officer Blood said that he was exercising the community caretaking exception to the Fourth Amendment to seize the automobile without a warrant. Before towing the car, he had to search it for "inventory" purposes. This turned up a small amount of cocaine in a wallet under the seat. The state argues that even though the seizure and search were unlawful, the evidence should be admitted in court against Gonzales because the officer had no way of knowing his conduct was unlawful.
Prosecutors insist Officer Blood was acting on a reasonable interpretation of state law, so the exclusionary rule should not apply to the evidence. Lawyers for Gonzales pointed to the 2005 Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals decision in Miranda v. City of Cornelius to show that Officer Blood should have known what he was doing was wrong.
"Given the existence of Miranda -- which involved the same police force, the same statute and city code provision, and nearly identical circumstances -- it was not objectively reasonable for Blood to rely on ORS 809.720 or the city code to order defendant's car impounded when it was parked in defendant's driveway and was not impeding traffic or threatening public safety," Judge Darleen Ortega wrote for the three judge panel. "As defendant points out, failure to apply the exclusionary rule in this case could create an incentive for law enforcement officers to remain ignorant of developments in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. Such an incentive would be antithetical to the deterrence rationale of the exclusionary rule."
A copy of the new decision is available in a 60k PDF file at the source link below.