Willamette Week, Vol. 23, No. 45, September 10, 1997

News Buzz:
Trashing a Career

Trashcan For the past two weeks, many Portland lawyers have asked themselves the same question: "How could David Peters have been nabbed?" The answer may lie in his trash can.

Peters, a Multnomah County deputy district attorney, resigned last week after police reportedly found cocaine residue, a small amount of marijuana and pot paraphernalia in his Northeast Portland house. Peters' alleged drug use came to police attention because his name and number were found in an address book seized in connection with a case against Michael Hipps and Adam Wylie. The pair was charged in July with dealing drugs out of the Zupan's parking lot.

So, with more than a month's warning, how did a veteran prosecutor get caught with drugs in his house? Although Peters undoubtedly knew that turning up in the address book of an alleged drug dealer wouldn't help his career, he also knew that it wouldn't be enough evidence in itself to obtain a search warrant for his house. What Peters might not have known is that police had other tools at their disposal.

Word around the legal community is that police were able to obtain a warrant to search his house because they found drug evidence among the spent coffee grounds, orange peels and tired leftovers in his curbside trash. Although DA Mike Schrunk would not confirm the trash theory of Peter's fall from grace, the story makes sense. Police can dumpster-dive as much as they want without a warrant, thanks to a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that all presumption of privacy is abandoned once the trash can is dragged to the curb.

The fact that warrantless searches of garbage are legal doesn't mean the Portland Police make them a regular practice. Several defense lawyers said they had never heard of a case in which police went to such lengths in a case that so far only involves possible drug possession charges. - MO [Maureen O'Hagan]



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