[Legal Briefs 


Police Towing Of Vehicle From Private Driveway Overturned

In March, a Federal District Court Judge in Portland ruled that Cornelius, Oregon Police improperly towed a vehicle from a private driveway after the driver was ticketed for driving without a license. The driver had been learning how to drive from her husband and was driving around the neighborhood at about 10 mph.

Spencer Neal, an attorney for the Oregon Law Center representing the couple, brought suit against the City of Cornelius and recovered $17,000 for them. The ruling follows a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which determined in November 2005 that police have no constitutional authority to tow a car stopped for a traffic violation if it is not blocking the road or threatening public safety. These rulings may reduce what many see as abusive towing practices by the police. (Oregonian, March 15).

Police Can Search Garbage Without Warrant After Picked Up By Trash Hauler

In February 2006, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in the case of State v. Howard/Dawson that police can search a person's garbage without a warrant after it has been collected by a trash hauler.

The court's ruling contrasts with its 2005 ruling in State v. Galloway where it ruled that police cannot search closed garbage cans sitting in front of someone's home without a warrant. The court reasoned that people retain a "protected possessory interest" in their garbage placed in closed containers. However, in State v. Howard/Dawson, the court explained that once the trash has been collected and taken away, people have essentially given up any possessory interest in their garbage to the hauler, who can then allow police to search it without a warrant.

Consent for Search of Home Not Valid if Co-Occupant Refuses Permission

In March 2006, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Georgia v. Randolph that police cannot conduct a warrantless search of a home when one occupant refuses to consent, even if another occupant does give police consent to search the residence. Drugs were found in a home after a man's estranged wife gave police permission to search the house without a warrant. The husband had unequivocally refused to give his consent for the search.

The Supreme Court reasoned that co-inhabitants of a residence both have a legitimate expectation of privacy in their home. If the police are faced with disputed permission to enter a home to conduct a warrantless search, they cannot search the home in light of the protections provided by the Fourth Amendment. The Court distinguished their ruling from situations where police are invited into a home by one occupant to protect a resident from domestic violence.


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