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Oregon case could limit random license plate checks

Aug 05, 2011 Matt Roesly

Currently, there is no written formal policy in Oregon for the use of random license plate checks by state police, the Mail Tribune reports. In a case that could have statewide ramifications, a Supreme County judge will determine if a state patrolman was at fault for conducting a random background check on Buck Wade Davis using his license plate information. Davis, who pleaded guilty to driving with a suspended license but reserved his right to appeal, was arrested in August 2007 as he was leaving a local market in West Medford. Deputies in the market's parking lot performed a random check of Davis' vehicle despite the fact that there was no probable cause nor did they suspect him of any wrongdoing. The background check turned up a citation for driving under the influence. It was also determined that Davis' license was suspended. Davis is fighting the ruling, and his case has been consolidated with a similar one that took place in Washington County, exponentially increasing the magnitude of the verdict. "It would impact what police could do statewide," Peter Gartlan, Davis' counsel from the Office of Public Defense Services, told the news source. The counter-argument to random license plate checks is that police can run the screens under their own discretion, which leaves profiling and discrimination open to question. Should the sheriffs lose the case, this could severely limit the use of recently installed computerized camera systems that scan plates automatically while patrol cars maneuver through traffic. Sheriffs' spokeswoman Andrea Carlson points out the need to continue with the random searches. "We can run a plate in a park, and if we find a sex offender, we know that person is not supposed to be there," she told the news source. "We are trying to keep the community and people safe." Davis' attorneys countered that while his license plate was open for public view, his tarnished driving records weren't, and thus should be exempt from random searches. The Evergreen Park, Illinois, Patch reports that a similar case took place in late July when officers randomly ran the plates of a Willowbrook man. The search revealed Daniel E. Walton had a suspended license, and a subsequent vehicle examination found nearly two grams of cocaine that had been obstructed from the officer's view.