Court of Appeals tosses 1 of 4 meth delivery convictions
On February 15th the Oregon Court of Appeals threw out a delivery of methamphetamine conviction against Christopher Ray Dimmick. Mr. Dimmick had been stopped while driving his car in The Dalles. Dimmick, who claimed the car was a friend's, was unable to provide valid proof of insurance and so the police elected to have it towed from the scene.
As part of the tow process, the police were authorized to "inventory" the car and its contents. This so called "inventory search" is a generally recognized but narrowly construed exception to the search warrant requirement. Generally, such inventories must be performed strictly according to a validly adopted policy which gives the searching officer no discretion in deciding when or how to conduct the inventory. Such inventories are allowed under the theory that they aren't really searching; that they are to protect the car owner's property and prevent spurious claims of theft against the police.(It only just so happens that the police find lots of drug evidence during such "inventories")
In Dimmick's case, when the police told him they were going to impound and inventory the car, Dimmick took off to leave on foot with a backpack that had been in the car. The police had other ideas and told Dimmick the backpack, having been in the car when it was stopped, had to remain to be "inventoried." Ultimately methamphetamine related evidence was found in the backpack and Dimmick was convicted of unlawful delivery of methamphetamine.
The court of appeals overturned the conviction, holding both that the inventory policy gave the officer the unlawful choice whether or not to search the backpack and that in any event not allowing someone to remove such an item before a tow could not be sustained as a valid inventory. The evidence found within the backpack likely affected the jury's verdict of guilty and thus the conviction needed reversal.
Perhaps more interesting than the search issue before the court was the fact that after his stop and arrest, in this case, Mr. Dimmick, apparently unable to say no to his clientele, picked up three separate new delivery of meth charges. The trial court consolidated all four cases for trial holding that the admission of evidence of each incident in a joint trial would not unduly prejudice Mr. Dimmick.
The court of appeals agreed, and refused to overturn Dimmick's other three delivery convictions on the theory that the evidence involving each incident may have been mutually admissible in the other cases and that the evidence was sufficiently distinct and simple to prevent the jury from improperly considering evidence admitted as to one charge as to the others.
But the court had just held the backpack evidence was unlawfully seized, and unlawfully admitted in the first case. In fact, the backpack evidence likely affected the jury's verdict as to that count. How is it then that the admission of the unlawful evidence, which affected the jury's verdict as to the one charge, could not be said to affect the broader verdict in the consolidated cases? An interesting case of arm-chair quarterbacking if you ask us.