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State v. Blair

Supreme Court of Oregon

June 15, 2017

STATE OF OREGON, Petitioner on Review,
v.
DANNY LEE BLAIR, Respondent on Review.

          Argued and submitted March 9, 2017, at the University of Oregon School of Law, Eugene.

         On review from the Court of Appeals CC 131055; CA A156756.[*]

          Rolf C. Moan, Assistant Attorney General, Salem, argued the cause and fled the brief for petitioner on review. Also on the brief were Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, and Benjamin Gutman, Solicitor General.

          Laura E. Coffn, Deputy Public Defender, Salem, argued the cause and fled the brief for respondent on review. Also on the brief was Ernest G. Lannet, Chief Defender, Offce of Public Defense Services.

          Before Balmer, Chief Justice, and Kistler, Walters, Landau, Brewer, Nakamoto, and Flynn, Justices. [**]

         The decision of the Court of Appeals is reversed. The judgment of the circuit court is vacated, and the case is remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

         [361 Or. 528] Case Summary:

         Before his trial on charge of possession of a controlled substance, defendant moved under Article I, section 9, of the Oregon Constitution, to suppress drug evidence found in a warrantless but purportedly consensual search of his backpack. The trial court denied the motion and defendant was convicted. On defendant's appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that, although defendant had consented without qualifcation to a police offcer's general request to search the backpack, his consent did not extend to unknotting and examining the contents of the opaque grocery bag, inside the backpack, in which the drugs were found. The state sought review, arguing that, as a general rule, a person's unqualifed affrmative response to a police offcer's general request to search some place or property constitutes consent to open and search any unlocked container discovered within the place or property. Held: The dispositive inquiry under Article I, section 9 is a factual inquiry into whether defendant intended to consent to the search of closed containers inside the backpack and, given that it is unclear whether the trial court so understood the inquiry and given that opposing inferences would be permissible on the record before the court, the case must be remanded to the circuit court to reconsider its decision under the correct standard.

         The decision of the Court of Appeals is reversed. The judgment of the circuit court is vacated, and the case is remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

         [361 Or. 529] BREWER, J.

         Before his trial on a charge of possession of a controlled substance, defendant moved to suppress the state's primary evidence-drugs that a police officer found in a warrantless but purportedly consensual search of defendant's backpack-on the ground that they were obtained in violation of Article I, section 9, of the Oregon Constitution. The trial court denied the motion and defendant was convicted. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, concluding that defendant's consent to the search of his backpack did not extend to untying and looking into an opaque grocery bag, inside the backpack, in which the drugs were found. State v. Blair. 278 Or.App. 512, 522, 380 P.3d 313 (2016).

         The state seeks review of that decision, arguing that defendant's unqualified consent to the police officer's generalized request to search the backpack should be deemed on the record before us to encompass consent to open any closed but unlocked containers found inside. We conclude that the state's argument does not comport with Article I, section 9. We further conclude that the dispositive inquiry is a factual one: Did defendant intend to consent to the search of closed containers inside his backpack? It is unclear whether the trial court so understood the inquiry before it, and, on the record before us, we conclude that opposing inferences permissibly could have been drawn from the evidence as to that issue. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals, and we vacate the judgment convicting defendant and remand to the circuit court to reconsider its suppression decision under the correct standard.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The facts that are relevant to the issue before us are not extensive. Responding to a report of a man being chased by armed attackers, members of the Tillamook County Sheriff's Office encountered defendant, the supposed victim. Defendant was agitated, disheveled, and somewhat incoherent, and the officers were doubtful that he had, in fact, been attacked. Defendant mentioned to one of the officers, Sergeant Jackson, that he had left his backpack "up on the hill" and that he also had lost his sweatshirt. Defendant [361 Or. 530] seemed reluctant to go in search of his belongings by himself, so Jackson went with him.

         Defendant located the backpack without difficulty. Jackson then asked defendant, in a casual way, if he could search the backpack. Although he did not say so, Jackson suspected that defendant was under the influence of meth-amphetamine, and he wanted to see if the backpack contained drugs or weapons. Defendant responded, "Yeah, no problem. Go ahead." Inside the backpack, Jackson saw an opaque, plastic grocery bag that was closed with a knot. Jackson untied the knot and found inside the grocery bag, among other items, a Ziploc bag containing psilocybin mushrooms.

         Defendant was charged with unlawful possession of a Schedule I controlled substance, ORS 475.752(3)(a). Before trial, he moved to suppress evidence of the mushrooms on the ground that their discovery was the product of an unconstitutional search under Article I, section 9. The state countered that, because defendant had consented to the search of his backpack, the search did not implicate his rights under Article I, section 9. Defendant did not deny having consented to Jackson's request to search the backpack, but he argued that his consent was not voluntary and that, even if it was voluntary, it did not extend to a search of the contents of the knotted grocery bag inside the backpack.

         The trial court denied the motion to suppress, holding that defendant's consent was voluntary and that opening and searching the grocery bag was within the scope of that consent.[1] Defendant thereafter entered a conditional no contest plea to the charged offense, and the trial court entered a judgment convicting him.

         On appeal, defendant challenged the denial of his motion to suppress, asserting the same arguments that he had raised in the trial court. With respect to the scope of consent issue, the Court of Appeals held that:

0[361 Or. 531] "[t]he scope of consent is determined by reference to what a typical, reasonable person would have understood by the exchange between the officer and the suspect in light of the totality of the circumstances surrounding the grant of consent in a particular case. Thus, consent to search a particular location or item extends to closed containers found within that location or inside of that item if, under the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person would have understood that the consent given included those containers."

Blair, 278 Or at 516 (citations omitted). The court was unpersuaded by the state's argument that, when both a police officer's request and an individual's response are general and unqualified, the scope of consent presumptively includes consent to search closed and unlocked containers found inside the stated object of the search. Id. at 519. The court held, instead, that an officer's generalized request for consent to search some place or thing does not extend to closed containers inside the place or thing unless the surrounding circumstances would reasonably convey that the officers are searching for something that could be hidden in those containers. Id. at 520. In the absence of such evidence in the record before it, the court determined that it "[could] not conclude that a reasonable person viewing the exchange would have understood that defendant consented to the search of the knotted grocery bag within his backpack." Id. at 522. Because the warrantless search of the knotted bag could not be justified under ...


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