SEARCH & SEIZURE: Police Road Blocks (HJR 25) (2011)

A constitutional amendment to weaken our search and seizure provision (Article I, section 9) of the Oregon Constitution was introduced for the third session in a row. HJR 25 would have amended the constitution to authorize law enforcement to use roadblocks to stop and question individuals to detect drunk drivers without any individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. Along with HJR 25, the constitutional referral, HB 3133 was introduced for the purported purpose of putting into Oregon law specific criteria that a law enforcement agency would be required to follow if it employed roadblocks. Rep. Andy Olson (R-Albany) was the chief sponsor of both.

This issue is important to the ACLU because it was our legal challenge back in 1987 in Nelson v. Lane County that stopped the use of roadblocks in Oregon. The Oregon Supreme Court held that police roadblocks constituted a search and seizure without a suspicion of wrongdoing or a warrant. It concluded that these practices violated Article I, section 9.

Our case also illustrated why the use of roadblocks diverts limited law enforcement resources from stopping people who are actually suspected of driving while under the influence. Before Ms. Nelson encountered the roadblock, she and her friend were on the highway and noticed a driver who appeared to be driving in a manner that suggested he was under the influence. Indeed they were relieved when they pulled off the highway. But moments later, Ms. Nelson and her friend were stopped at a police roadblock and questioned by a trooper about when she had her last drink. She explained she had consumed one glass of wine at a reception, hours ago and prior to a full dinner with dessert. Ms. Nelson’s friend leaned over to tell the trooper that Ms. Nelson was not the one drinking but rather there was a dangerous driver still on the highway. The trooper became upset and required Ms. Nelson to perform a series of field sobriety tests. He continually questioned her about when she had consumed her last drink. Of course Ms. Nelson passed all the tests because she was sober. The next day she called the ACLU and we took her case all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court.

The ACLU testified against HJR 25 when it was heard in the House Rules Committee. Because that Committee remained open until the very end of session, HJR 25 remained in play all session long. Despite there being no fiscal cost related, HJR 25 had an “interesting” second referral to the Joints Ways & Means Committee. We eventually learned through testimony that this referral had been intentional by the proponents. In recent sessions this constitutional amendment had been introduced on the Senate side, where, after being heard, it died in the Senate Judiciary Committee. By placing a Ways & Means referral on HJR 25, if it passed out of that both the House Rules and the Joints Ways & Means Committees, it would go to the House floor for a vote and then directly to the Senate floor for a vote, avoiding a Senate policy committee, such as the Senate Judiciary Committee. We worked hard to prevent HJR 25 from leaving the House Rules Committee and we were pleased that it did not move forward.

WIN: DIED IN COMMITTEE