Overturned conviction far from over

The case of a Medford woman whose 2007 drug conviction was overturned Wednesday by the Oregon Court of Appeals is now headed to the Oregon Supreme Court.

Jackson County District Attorney Mark Huddleston said Thursday he had originally expected the charge against Sheryl Diane Singer, who entered a guilty plea in May 2007 to possession of a controlled substance, would be removed from her record in about two months.

But that changed abruptly.

"My initial impression was that this (case) was at an end," Huddleston said. "But it turns out the Department of Justice is asking for a review from the Supreme Court on this unsettled issue."

The Court of Appeals overturned Singer's conviction Wednesday, ruling that a Medford police officer illegally obtained key evidence against Singer during a routine traffic stop.

Huddleston said he received a call from an attorney with the Oregon Department of Justice.

Singer's case, along with two others, is headed to the state's top court for legal review.

At issue is how long an officer can speak to a suspect, as well as what he can and cannot do, during a traffic stop. The three cases will be reviewed to determine what constitutes an illegal search under these circumstances, Huddleston said.

"All the cases have similar legal issues regarding traffic stops and searches," Huddleston said.

Singer could not be reached for comment.

According to court records and the published opinion, Singer, 53, was a front-seat passenger in a car whose driver made an unlawful turn. A Medford police officer pulled the car over. But instead of ticketing the driver, the officer's attention quickly focused on Singer, who "appeared to be nervous," the document said.

The officer searched for warrants against Singer and discovered she had a conviction for a drug-related crime. He then asked her to step out of the car and remove her sunglasses so he could see her eyes. The officer asked for and received permission to search her for drugs. Finding none, he asked to search her purse. Singer warned him she had a "rig" — which the officer understood to refer to a hypodermic needle used to inject drugs.

Singer admitted the syringe contained heroin and was arrested for possession of a controlled substance.

Before Singer's trial in Jackson County Circuit Court, her attorney moved to suppress the evidence on the grounds that the search was illegal. Judge William Purdy denied the motion and Singer entered a conditional guilty plea to unlawful possession of heroin. But Singer reserved her right to appeal the court's denial of her suppression motion.

The Appeals Court on Wednesday ruled the evidence against Singer should have been suppressed because current case law appeared to show the officer had no lawful basis to detain Singer or seize her property, Huddleston said.

The Supreme Court has already agreed to hear the three cases, he said.

"This will hold the Singer case in abeyance until we get a ruling from the Supreme Court," he said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Share This Story