Nighttime Cyclist's Drug Bust Upheld

The Oregon Court of Appeals last week upheld the 2008 felony drug conviction of a bicyclist from Oak Grove who argued that Portland Police officer had no legal grounds to search him after he was stopped for riding without a headlight.

At around 3 a.m. on July 3, 2008, Portland Police Officer Justin Thurman noticed Jacob Charles Leino, now 28, riding without a headlight, appeals court documents say (pdf).

After Leino rode into a garage, Thurman called to him from the street to "come and talk." Thurman asked Leino for identification and ran his driver's license through dispatch to check if he had a criminal record (he did, for drunk driving two years earlier) or outstanding warrants.

Thurman then noticed a knife clipped to Leino's pants and asked to search him, to which Leino apparently consented; the search revealed cocaine and meth on his person.

Leino's public defenders argued in Multnomah County Circuit Court that the physical evidence should have been suppressed.

The records check based on Leino's driver's license, they argued, "was not reasonably necessary to the investigation of a routine, bicycle-related, traffic violation. Conducting a warrant check, according to [the] defendant, was equivalent to a criminal investigation without reasonable suspicion, and thus unlawfully extended the duration of the stop."

The appeals court didn't buy it. "[W]e reject defendant's suggestion that, because this case involves the stop of a bicycle rather than a motor vehicle, no check of any sort was permissible," Chief Judge David Brewer writes.

"We conclude that, in the course of a lawful traffic stop, an officer's act of contacting dispatch with a person's identifying information is reasonably related to the identification of the person and the issuance of the citation. Determining that a defendant is, in fact, the person he or she claims to be is reasonably related to the identification of the person and the issuance of the citation."

Add this to the list of good reasons to ride with a headlight after dark.