Drug and gun convictions overturned on bad search
This past Wednesday the Oregon Court of Appeals held that the Marion County Sheriff's Office Inventory Search Policy was unconstitutional. In doing so it reversed Eugenio Cordova's convictions for Delivery and Possession of a Controlled Substance and Felon in Possession of a Firearm.
Late one night Mr. Cordova found himself being pursued by a Sheriff's Deputy as he was rambling the scenic byways of Marion County. Mr. Cordova didn't feel like stopping to see what the Deputy wanted right away and so embarked on a brief attempt to lose his tail. He soon pulled over however and was arrested.
The Sheriff's deputy called for a tow truck and, pursuant to a Sheriff's Department General Order proceeded to search Mr. Cordova's car in an effort to "inventory" any valuables contained therein. The General Order directed officers engaged in such inventories to open all closed containers that could contain valuables. In a backpack, in the car, the Deputy found a locked safe. Within the safe (he found the key under the driver's seat) he found a gun, drugs and drug paraphernalia. Mr. Cordova's late night ride had taken a turn for the worse and he was charged with delivery and possession of the drugs and for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
His convictions, however, were overturned because the Sheriff's General Order 66.2.1 which authorized the search ran afoul of Oregon's constitutional proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures. To be constitutionally reasonable such inventory searches must be conducted pursuant to a policy that strictly limits the officers in opening closed containers which are designed to, or are likely to, contain valuables.
Because Marion County Sheriff's Office General Order 66.2.1 broadly authorized the search of all containers that could contain valuables, the order was too broad and therefore unreasonable and unconstitutional. Because the inventory search of Mr. Cordova's backpack and safe were conducted pursuant to an unconstitutional order, the search itself was rendered unlawful and the evidence seized thereby should have been suppressed.
Of interest is the fact that the items searched, a backpack and a safe, are both items that are designed to or are likely to contain valuables. But because the policy under which they were searched was unlawful, the search itself became unlawful. One wonders how many people before Mr. Cordova were convicted based on what at first blush appeared to be a valid inventory of their vehicles, but was actually an unconstitutional search. Once again proving that a thorough and experienced criminal defense attorney can make all the difference in the world.