A reader recently posed the following question to us in the comments section in one of our blogs:
“If an officer states that your car ‘smells like marijuana,” does that give him probable cause to search your vehicle for drugs or other substances?”
We’ll talk the general sense of this question on the blog. For better advice about your exact situation, contact a criminal defense attorney.
Probable Cause and the Smell of Cannabis
The short answer to the question is yes, the smell of marijuana gives the officer probable cause to search your car. See, probable cause is the reasonable belief based upon the “totality of the circumstance” (also known as facts) that the police officer could come to court and testify that a:
1. A crime is being committed; and
2. The place to be searched is tied to the crime.
Normally a warrant is required to search, however, with motor vehicles, the passenger compartment is subject to a search assuming that the officer can establish probable cause for a crime or probable cause that the person in the vehicle has committed a crime, therein the car is subject to an inventory search incident to arrest.
Challenging The Search Of A Vehicle
The next question centers around challenging the validity of the search based solely on the officer’s assertion that he “smelled marijuana” emanating from the vehicle. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to attacking the validity of a traffic stop, which again speaks to the benefits of hiring an attorney to represent you at trial. That being said, some factors an attorney will look at to see if there were any errors in the due process include:
- Driving conduct
- Location of the stop
- Movement of the driver/occupants prior to the police officer’s approach of the vehicle
- Time of day
- Behavior of the driver/occupants when speaking with the officer
All of these facts are helpful to the court in assessing whether the officer can establish probable cause of not. The ends only justify the means if due process was followed and the cop can prove that there was credible probable cause to search the vehicle.
If you or someone you know has been involved in a situation similar to the one described above, don’t hesitate to contact a criminal defense attorney to assist with your case.