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Suspect in Central Point meth bust off the hook

Despite a jury finding him guilty of charges surrounding a traffic stop near Central Point, a California man will go free on meth trafficking charges.

Johnathan Chavez, 30, of Variello, California was stopped on northbound Interstate 5 in December 2018 with more than four and a half pounds of methamphetamine, according to court documents filed by Oregon State Police in Jackson County Circuit Court. In October, the case went to a jury, who found Chavez guilty on felony counts of delivering and possessing methamphetamine.

This week, however, Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Johan Pietila moved to dismiss the charges pursuant to a recent Oregon Supreme Court opinion.

The Supreme Court's Nov. 15 opinion released in State of Oregon v. Mario Arreola-Botello effectively put an end to a legal doctrine known as “unavoidable lull,” Pietila said. During traffic stops, "unavoidable lull" allowed for police officers to ask questions or conduct searches unrelated tothe initial traffic stop if the officer had reasonable suspicion.

"What it did was it created an opportunity during the normal course of a traffic stop to interact with a person, ask basic questions including questions on the presence of weapons (and) that sort of thing," Pietila said.

Unavoidable lull had been upheld in national court rulings for decades, according to Pietila. He said the "unavoidable lull" doctrine did not do away with reasonable suspicion such as requirements for a search warrant. He said the new precedent set in State of Oregon v. Mario Arreola-Botello could complicate things for law enforcement.

"It could potentially affect the safety of officers if an officer conducts a traffic stop and can't ask about the presence of weapons, that can create a real issue," Pietila said noting that it could also complicate stops made for the purpose of preventing drug trafficking.

Local defense attorney Peter Carini disagrees with Pietila.

"I don't anticipate the police having any difficulties doing law enforcement business (because of the new precedent)" Carini said.

However, Carini said, "it's gonna cause a lot of cases that are currently in the system that haven't been resolved yet, to be dismissed."

Carini said the precedent will force law enforcement to change the protocol when it comes to searching vehicles.

"What's interesting about it is that, police officers will now (be forced to) articulate a separate and distinct basis for expanding their investigation when a person gets pulled over," he said.

Reach KTVL News 10 reporter Sammy Shaktah atbashaktah@KTVL.com. Follow him on Twitter @SammyKTVL.

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