PORTLAND — For drivers in a traffic stop, the question from police is inevitable: “Is there anything in the vehicle that we should be concerned about?”
That was what a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy asked Utah driver William R. DeLong on May 22, 2009, after he stopped DeLong for not wearing a seatbelt. DeLong consented to the search, which uncovered a fanny pack full of methamphetamine and paraphernalia.
But that question also constituted an interrogation under Oregon law, and sheriff’s deputy Vincent Robeson hadn’t yet read DeLong his rights. The Oregon Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed a judge’s decision to allow the fanny pack into evidence and sent the case back to Douglas County Circuit Court.
“Although Robeson did not specifically ask defendant to provide consent to a search,” appeals court judge Lynn Nakamoto wrote in the ruling, “giving consent to search was prompted by Robeson’s question during a custodial interrogation, which is ‘inherently compelling.’ “
Robeson and two other officers stopped DeLong in Douglas County. He declined to provide a driver’s license, so Robeson detained him while another officer checked for outstanding warrants. Finding none, they asked DeLong about the contents of the car.
Robeson didn’t ask for consent to search the vehicle. Other deputies conducted the search, found the fanny pack and conducted field tests to determine the presence of methamphetamine.
Inspecting the fanny pack constituted a warrantless search, the court ruled. Even though DeLong volunteered an offer to search his car and then later admitted that the fanny pack and paraphernalia belonged to him, the entire episode happened without DeLong knowing his rights.
At trial, the state argued that the question didn’t amount to an interrogation, but was instead routine questioning that was part of trying to determine DeLong’s identity.
On appeal, state prosecutors changed their argument: Now, they acknowledged that DeLong was owed a reading of his rights, but said DeLong’s “spontaneous offer of consent” to the search made the search legal.
DeLong’s attorney responded that the evidence was unlawfully discovered, and that evidence was used to obtain a statement from DeLong admitting that the fanny pack belonged to him.
The spontaneous consent, DeLong’s attorney said, was “an attempt to extricate himself from the situation by appearing to have nothing to hide.”
Reach reporter Nigel Duara on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nigelduara
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