by Mark Wilson
The Supreme Court of Oregon reversed a conviction for interfering with a peace officer, concluding that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion that a crime had been, or was about to be, committed — and his order was not a “lawful order.”
At about midnight, Beaverton, Oregon, police officers Crino and Mendez were sitting in their patrol car outside a restaurant that had been closed for about 20 minutes. The restaurant parking lot had recently been the site of several thefts.
The officers noticed Eric Lawrence Kreis standing “near” one of about five cars in the lot. They suspected that he was either trying to break into the car or might be attempting to drive under the influence of intoxicants.
Crino ran the car’s license plate, noting that Kreis matched the owner’s description. Yet he remained unsure whether Kreis owned the vehicle. Mendez, an officer-in-training, approached Kreis and initiated conversation. Kreis did not respond to Mendez’s questions. Rather, he left the parking lot, walking toward the back of the restaurant. Crino and Mendez caught up with Kreis as he stood on the restaurant’s back patio. Crino asked Kreis for his name, whether the car was his, and whether he was a restaurant employee. Kreis again did not respond.
When Kreis took a few steps away, Crino informed him that he was not free to leave. Kreis said he did not “have to talk” and “was not answering any ... questions.” Crino believed Kreis was angry and exhibiting signs of intoxication. Due to Mendez’s lack of experience, Crino called for backup.
When two more officers arrived, Crino told Kreis they needed to learn his identity, why he was at the restaurant, and whether he was an employee. The officers claimed that Kreis furrowed his brow, clenched his fists, and assumed a fighting stance, shifting his weight back and forth. They believed he was looking past them, seeking an escape route.
Crino told Kreis that he would be arrested if he did not provide the requested information. “I am not going to be arrested,” Kreis responded through clenched teeth.
Crino then ordered Kreis to face the building, so he could be handcuffed. Kreis refused. Crino gave the order a second time. Kreis said, “No” and refused to turn around. Crino told Kreis that he was under arrest “for interfering.” Kreis physically resisted, the officers took him to the ground, and handcuffed him.
Kreis was charged with interfering with a peace officer and resisting arrest. The case was tried before a jury, and Kreis moved for judgment of acquittal on the interfering charge. He argued that Crino did not have reasonable suspicion that Kreis had committed or was about to commit, a crime. Kreis further argued that neither Crino’s stop nor his order to submit to handcuffs were lawful. The trial court denied the motion, and the jury convicted Kreis of the interfering charge but acquitted him on the resisting charge. The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial.
The Oregon Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court improperly denied the motion for judgment of acquittal.
Under Oregon law, a person is guilty of interfering with a peace officer only when refusing to obey a lawful order. An order is “lawful” when it is “authorized by, and is not contrary to, substantive law.” State v. Ausmus, 85 P.3d 864 (Ore. 2003).
The Court first concluded that Crino’s stop of Kreis was not supported by reasonable suspicion that he had committed or was about to commit a crime. Turning to the question of whether Crino had issued a “lawful order,” the Court explained that “an order that is not consistent with Article I, section 9” of the Oregon Constitution “or that is issued in violation of that provision, is not a ‘lawful order.’”
“An order is … contrary to substantive law when it interferes with an individual’s liberty interest to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures,” the Court observed. Kreis “had a liberty interest with which Crino could not interfere absent constitutional justification.”
The Court rejected the State’s argument that the officer-safety doctrine justified Crino’s actions. “When, as here, an officer has made an initial, unlawful seizure, and there is no independent constitutional justification for further restraint, the officer-safety doctrine does not permit the officer to impose continued, and even more stringent, restrain to effectuate that unlawful seizure,” the Court instructed. That is, the Court explained that officer-safety concerns cannot “convert an otherwise unlawful order into a lawful one because … the officer-safety doctrine applies only during a lawful police encounter.”
Because Crino did not have reasonable suspicion that Kreis had committed or was about to commit a crime, he unlawfully stopped and seized Kreis, and his command for Kreis to turn around and face the building was not a “lawful order.” Thus, the Court ruled that the trial court erred in denying Kreis’ motion for acquittal.
Accordingly, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. See: State v. Kreis, 451 P.3d 954 (Ore. 2019).
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Related legal case
State v. Kreis
|Cite||451 P.3d 954 (Ore. 2019)|
|Level||Court of Appeals|
|Appeals Court Edition||F.3d|