Oregon v. SinesAnnotate this Case
Defendant John Sines came to the attention of law enforcement after his housekeeper anonymously called the child protective services division of the Department of Human Services (DHS) and said that she suspected that defendant might be sexually abusing his adopted daughter. The housekeeper’s suspicions had been raised after finding an unusual “discharge” on several pairs of the child’s underwear, and she told DHS that she had considered taking a pair for authorities to examine. In response to a question from the housekeeper, the DHS employee who handled the call said that he would be able to connect the housekeeper with someone in law enforcement who could analyze the underwear and confirm or refute her concerns. The DHS employee told the housekeeper several times that he could not tell her to take the victim’s underwear. The next day the housekeeper obtained a pair of the victim’s underwear, and the following day she turned it over to the police. Based on that evidence and other statements by the housekeeper, police obtained a warrant and searched defendant’s house, after which defendant was arrested and charged with a number of sex crimes. Defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence obtained through the search and seizure of the underwear was denied, and he was convicted on four counts of first degree sexual abuse. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the trial court had erred in denying defendant’s motion to suppress. The issue this case raised for the Oregon Supreme Court's review was whether a private citizen’s seizure of criminal evidence was subject to suppression at trial as the fruit of an unlawful government search. The Court of Appeals concluded that, although the underwear had been procured by a private person, there was nevertheless sufficient contact between state officials and the private person that the warrantless search and seizure constituted state action, in violation of Article I, section 9, of the Oregon Constitution. The Supreme Court reversed, acknowledging that this was a "close case:"Contacts between private individuals and state officers before a private search always require careful examination to determine whether, given all the circumstances, the state officers provided such affirmative encouragement and authorization to the private individuals so as to render them agents of the state. In this case . . . we hold that they did not."