People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Legal Briefs Two Supreme Court Rulings Erode Civil Liberties
Two recent Supreme Court rulings chipped away further at the rights of people in favor of the police. On January 26, the Court ruled that officers can frisk the passengers of a car regardless of whether they are suspected of criminal activity or not. The justification is that "traffic stops are inherently dangerous for police and pat-downs are permissible when an officer has a reasonable suspicion that the passenger may be armed and dangerous." The case was Arizona v. Johnson (Associated Press, January 26). The other decision laid the groundwork to undo the "exclusionary rule," which prohibits the use of evidence obtained without a warrant. In Herring v. United States, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that "unlawful police conduct should not require the suppression of evidence if all that was involved was isolated carelessness" (NY Times, January 30).
While advocates continue to point out the inherent unfairness of the sidewalk obstruction (Sit/Lie) ordinance, Circuit Court Judge Michael McShane ruled the ordinance to be unconstitutional on February 18. He referred specifically to the portion of the ordinance which requires a person to keep his/her belongings within two feet of themselves. Judge McShane stated, "I found that an ordinary person would not understand from the statute that mundane and everyday behavior would be prohibited by law," and he further indicated that "the ordinance encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement," an argument consistently made by advocates of poor and homeless people. In a prior case, Circuit Court Judge Terry Hannon ruled the ordinance to be "constitutional and reasonable" (PPR #46 and Portland Mercury, November 20).
The ordinance is supposed to sunset in June, but the report created by the SAFE (Street Access for Everyone) Committee has yet to be publicly presented to the City Council. While several city commissioners have indicated their opposition to the ordinance, its future remains to be seen.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.