Ore. Supreme Court bans officers from asking random questions during traffic stops

Officers must confine their questions to ones ‘reasonably related’ to the reason for the stop

PoliceOne columnist Val Van Brocklin discusses the implications of this ruling in Oregon court bans conversational cops. 

PoliceOne Staff 

PORTLAND, Ore. — A recent ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court has banned police officers from using conversation during a traffic stop as justification for searching for a more serious offense.

The ruling instructs officers to confine their questions to those “reasonably related” to the reason the driver was pulled over. Oregon Public Broadcasting reports the ruling effectively ends the practice of turning a traffic stop into a search for a more serious offense. However, the ruling does grant officers leeway if they have a strong reason to believe a crime has occurred. 

“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,” Sgt. Danny DiPietro, a spokesperson for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, told OPB. “Then they can inquire about that crime.” 

Several law enforcement agencies in the state told OPB they are reviewing their training protocols and updating officers accordingly, or are waiting for guidance from their district or city attorneys. 

The ruling stems from a 2015 case in which Mario Arreola-Botell was pulled over for failure to signal. Arreola-Botello consented to a search of his car and officers found a package of methamphetamine on the floor.

Arreola-Botello’s attorney argued the search was unconstitutional because it was incited by questions that went outside the scope of what police should be allowed to ask during a traffic stop.  

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled that an “unavoidable lull” in an interaction between an officer and the person they have stopped “does not create an opportunity for an officer to ask unrelated questions, unless the officer can justify the inquiry on other grounds.” 

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