OR: Pinging fleeing murder suspect’s cell phone was reasonable

The warrantless pinging of a fleeing murder suspect’s cell phone was with exigent circumstances and was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment and the [even more protective] Oregon Constitution. The information the police had showed defendant was still a threat to others. State v. Hawthorne, 316 Ore. App. 487, 2021 Ore. App. LEXIS 1807 (Dec. 22, 2021):

We are persuaded that, in view of all the information police possessed, including the escalating threats culminating in the shooting of W’s father, there remained an imminent threat to human life that required the officers to immediately locate defendant. See Stevens, 311 Ore. at 129-32 (evaluating the evidence gathered by officers over the course of their investigation in determining that an exigent risk to human life existed).

Defendant had sent threatening messages to J for months leading up to the shooting. In response to not receiving the correct amount of marijuana, defendant, in turn, threatened the lives of W, J, and their unborn child, threatened to “cocktail bomb” their home and shoot the “first person to run out,” and stated that W would be the “death of you all.” Defendant demonstrated a willingness to carry those threats to fruition. He had coordinated the slashing of J’s tires from out of state, and, as the trial court found, escalated further when he drove “a third of the way across the country” with a commitment and plan to settle W’s debts.

On the night of the shooting, defendant had entered W’s family’s home, without regard as to whether W was present, threatened four people with a gun and fatally shot one of them. When W did return to the residence, defendant instructed Carrera to follow W. Carrera gave chase and returned, stating that he “took care of it.” That statement, combined with defendant’s post-shooting willingness to meet up with W, conveyed that defendant likely intended to continue settling the debt for which he had travelled across the country. Defendant’s shooting of W’s father and defendant’s messages threatening both W and J’s family generally, showed that defendant’s willingness to use violence extended beyond just W and was not limited to a specific victim. Defendant had fled the scene, armed, and in a car.

The detectives’ investigation revealed that defendant was committed to carrying out his threats and posed an imminent threat to the lives of J, L, and anyone inside their families’ homes. With those considerations in mind, we conclude that, under the circumstances at the time defendant’s phone was pinged, the detectives had reasonable grounds to believe that immediately locating defendant was necessary to prevent physical harm to J, W, and their families. The trial court, therefore, did not err in refusing to suppress evidence resulting from the ping of defendant’s phone.

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