Court of Appeals tosses drug case

Today the Oregon Court of Appeals threw out the Delivery of Methamphetamine conviction of Leonardo Espinoza-Barragan because the police officer who stopped him for driving infractions unlawfully expanded the traffic stop into a drug investigation.

Many Oregon drug cases begin with a traffic stop for relatively minor motor vehicle infractions. Police use these stops as a pretext to gather more information on people they think are up to no good. Oftentimes such traffic stops are little more than spurious justifications for what is really racial profiling.

That appears to have been the case in Mr. Barragan's case. He was stopped in Salem Oregon after a Marion County Sheriff's Deputy began following him on I-5 because Barragan didn't make eye contact with him as the deputy passed him on the highway.

The deputy testified that he had taken three training classes on "ïndicators" of drug trafficking in the I-5 corridor. The deputy noted the following "unusual" indicators in this case as (1) Barragan didn't make eye contact when the deputy passed him, (2) Barragan slowed down and took the next exit after the deputy pulled in behind him, (3) Barragan gave somewhat inconsistent or "evasive" responses to the deputy's questions about where he was going, (4) Barragan held up two fingers when telling the deputy he was going to California for two days, (5) he didn't notice any luggage in the car, and (6) Barragan had recently purchased the vehicle.

While not specifically mentioning "racial profiling" (Did I mention Barragan was Hispanic and his native tongue was Spanish?), and despite the fact that the deputy felt otherwise, the Court of Appeals nonetheless easily found that these so-called unusual indicators failed to give rise to a reasonable suspicion that Barragan was involved in criminal activity.

Under Oregon law, in order for a police officer to prolong or expand the scope of a non-criminal traffic stop, he or she must develop a reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity. The case is a refreshing reminder to Judges and attorneys that the conclusory judgments of the police officers on the scene cannot simply be accepted as truth. Indeed in Barragan's case, the Court noted that one of the factors the officer testified to - the lack of baggage - was both impossible for the officer to determine and in fact contradicted by the evidence (a backpack and zippered bag were found in the second row of seats!)

If you have been charged with a crime in Oregon, it is important that you and your attorney critically examine every interaction you had with the police leading up to your arrest. The police are often wrong on the facts and the law, and sometimes, yes, they might even be lying racists.


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