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Oregon Vehicle Search Protections Shrink

Pete Springer/OPB

A case decided by the Oregon Court of Appeals this week expands the ability for law enforcement to search vehicles without a warrant. The case involves Jerry Finlay, a Silverton man who was involved in a drug sting. On April 13, 2011, Finlay parked his truck and trailer at a restaurant where he planned to meet a buyer, who was actually an undercover police informant. He went inside the restaurant briefly, then police arrested Finlay when he returned to the parking lot. Police found no drugs on the Finlay, but searched his truck and trailer and found methamphetamine in the trailer.

Finlay’s lawyers tried to suppress the evidence found in the trailer, and the trial court granted that motion, so the evidence of the drugs was never introduced. In certain cases, automobile searches are excepted from the need to provide a warrant, and the trial judge decided that Finlay’s case didn’t fall within the exception. But the appeals court disagreed (pdf). Finlay’s lawyers argued police would have to have lawfully stopped him while he was driving, but the appeals court said a search of his parked truck and trailer was legal.

We’ll hear what the case means for Oregon’s law regarding warrantless searches.


  • Tung Yin: Criminal procedure professor at Lewis & Clark Law School
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