Civil Liberties

No Ticket Required To Search a Car, Says Oregon Supreme Court

A hunch will do


The Supreme Court of Oregon had no problem on Wednesday authorizing police officers to detain and search a motorist who committed no traffic violation worth ticketing. James Kenneth Watson had been driving through Myrtle Creek on April 21, 2008 when Officer Kris Malek recognized him and decided to pull him over. Officer Malek claimed Watson's car briefly crossed over the yellow painted lane divider stripes. Watson said he drifted a bit because he dropped his cell phone and he reached down to grab it.

When pulled over, Officer Malek decided not to issue a ticket. He asked for license and registration and began questioning Watson while he waited for dispatch to confirm the license and check for arrest warrants. Watson was ordered out of his vehicle and asked whether he was a drug dealer and whether he would submit to a search. Watson refused.

Deputy Clayton Ruble arrived on the scene and claimed he smelled a "pretty strong" odor of marijuana that Officer Malek had not noticed. An officer with a drug dog was called to the scene to sniff Watson's car. The dog indicated and marijuana and cocaine were found. By the time the search ended, dispatch called back to confirm that Watson had no warrants and his license was clean. Watson's attorney moved to suppress the evidence from the search he maintained had been illegal.