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DA: Local meth trafficking case thrown out following Supreme Court decision

Although Oregon State Police say they found 4.5 pounds of meth in a California man's car along I-5 in Jackson County. But new court precedent means that the case can't be tried.

Posted: Dec 10, 2019 4:50 PM
Updated: Dec 10, 2019 5:11 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. — A drug trafficking case that was being prosecuted in Jackson County has instead been thrown out due to a recent ruling at the Oregon Supreme Court that limits what law enforcement can do during a traffic stop.

According to the Jackson County District Attorney's Office, a trooper with Oregon State Police stopped 29-year-old Johnathan Chavez along I-5 near Medford last December.

"During the course of the traffic stop, through conversation and observation of Mr. Chavez, Trp. Peterson began to suspect criminal activity," the DA's Office said. "While waiting for dispatch to respond, Trp. Peterson received a positive canine alert on the vehicle."

After searching Chavez' car, the trooper reportedly found more than 4.5 pounds of methamphetamine. Chavez was arrested, charged, and tried for both possession and delivery of meth — and in October of this year, a jury unanimously found him guilty. However, a similar case working its way through the state Supreme Court put a pause on Chavez' case.

"The judgment was stayed pending a preserved issue on a motion to suppress," the DA's Office said. "After the motion hearing Judge Hoppe took the matter under advisement."

The case before the Oregon Supreme Court was State of Oregon v. Mario Arreola-Botello, 365 Or. 695. An opinion issued by the court determined that "all investigative activities, including investigative inquiries, conducted by law enforcement during a traffic stop, must be reasonably related to the purpose of that stop or have an independent constitutional justification."

"The case effectively does away with the doctrine known as 'unavoidable lull,'" the DA's Office said, which allowed officers to request a search if it occurs during a routine stop, but doesn't delay it — as in the case of the OSP trooper waiting to hear back from dispatch along I-5 in Medford.

"This doctrine, that during a traffic stop, an officer may make an inquiry or request a search relating to a matter, not relevant to the original purpose for the stop, if it is otherwise supported by reasonable suspicion or during an 'unavoidable lull,' has been upheld and reiterated in court opinions over the last decade," the DA's Office said.

Because of the Supreme Court's decision on Mario Arreola-Botello, the Jackson County judge suppressed the evidence provided during Chavez' traffic stop, and the state dismissed all charges against him.

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