Fourth Amendment

Oregon Court: Jesus Malverde Medallion Doesn't Justify Car Search

The medallion is often associated with Mexican drug dealers

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The Oregon Court of Appeals on Thursday rejected the argument that an image of Jesus Malverde in an automobile is suspicious enough to warrant a search for drugs. A three-judge panel rejected the justification Oregon State Police Trooper Wells provided after pulling over a Toyota 4Runner on Interstate 5. When Trooper Wells came to the window to ask Manuel Meza-Garcia for his license and registration, the trooper's suspicion was heightened after he noticed something near the windshield.

"There was also the mention of the necklace hanging from the mirror, rear view mirror, that Trooper Wells stated he recognized as that of the Saint Jesus Malverde, which he stated in his training and experience is often associated with narcotics trafficking," Douglas County Circuit Court Judge Frances Elaine Burge explained. "And again that alone would not be sufficient to raise reasonable suspicion."

Jesus Malverde is not a Catholic saint. Rather, he was a bandit who shot in 1909 in Sinaloa, Mexico, according to legend, while robbing from the rich to give to the poor. The Robin Hood-style myth that surrounds Malverde has made him something of a patron saint for drug dealers. The appellate judges refused to consider the medallion as evidence and instead rejected the other assertions police used to search Meza-Garcia. The trooper insisted it was inherently suspicious to have two people driving with two cell phones north on I-5 without visible luggage. The appellate judges rejected this reasoning.