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James O'Rourke - Criminal defense lawyer Portland Oregon

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Random License Plate Checks

Many people are surprised to hear that a person who has been convicted of DUII or entered the Diversion program is much more likely to be stopped again by the police in the future. The “why?” of that fact is simple and something we regularly observe every day. How often have you seen a police officer in his or her patrol vehicle stopped at a traffic light using his computer? Often, the police officer is simply running the license plate of the car in front of him. Sometimes the officer has a reason, but often the practice is random and done for no reason at all.

Computer technology has placed an enormous amount of information at the fingertips of the police, literally. The laptop computers in a standard patrol car are positioned so that they can be accessed easily. A few keystrokes to run a license plate produce the car owner’s name and whether or the insurance is in force. The officer can then quickly determine whether the owner’s license is suspended and his or her criminal history. An officer can have all of this information in seconds.

If a person has suspended license the police have instant probable cause to initiate a traffic stop. If a person has a history of DUII offenses, they are likely to be closely scrutinized by the police for signs of impaired driving. This is why a person with a prior DUII or a Diversion has a higher likelihood of being stopped by the police and arrested for DUII if they are drinking and driving.

In fact, the Portland Police are experimenting with “license plate recognition” technology (LPR). A vehicle outfitted with LPR can drive down a street or through a parking lot and digitally scan each license plate and check for stolen vehicles and people with suspended licenses. The officer only has to turn the system on and wait for an alert.

The legal challenges to this practice have just begun. The Oregon Court of Appeals has just weighed in on this issue. In State v. Davis (Decided September 22, 2010) the Court of Appeals held that such random checks do not violate any protected privacy interest and are not a standardless and unfettered exercise of discretion by the police that is forbidden by the Oregon Constitution. The Court of Appeals decision was not unanimous, which increases the possibility the Oregon Supreme Court will decide to review the decision.

As an Oregon DUII Defense Attorney James F. O’Rourke, Jr. represents persons charged with crimes in Oregon courts. He carefully reviews every case to determine whether the actions of the police conform with the standards set by the Constitution.