“Plain Smell” Doctrine Results In Two Marijuana Busts In Sonoma County
Over the past few weeks, police in Sonoma County have made a number of arrests for transporting large amounts of marijuana. According to a report two of the arrests resulted from an officer’s report that he could smell marijuana in the car’s cabin after making a routine traffic stop. This suspicious smell then gave the officer probable cause to search the car, where he found the marijuana.
The “Plain Smell” Exception to the Warrant Requirement
In general, any time a police officer wants to search a car or a home, they need to point to some articulable facts that would justify the search. This protection from “unreasonable searches” is provided to all citizens by the United States and California constitutions. The facts cited by the police officers should be reliable indicators that some law has been broken. Furthermore, in order to actually conduct the search, the police will need to secure a warrant from a judge.
However, in some cases judges have made exceptions to the general rule requiring a warrant before a search. More specifically, judges have created a modified definition of the word “search.” For example, courts have held that a police officer who pulls over a vehicle and smells marijuana has not conducted a “search” under the terms of the law. This means that there does not need to be probable cause established in order for a police officer to take what he smells into account when determining if a person should be arrested.
Enforcing the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution
If police and prosecutors had their way, every time they seized evidence from a driver it would fit within an exception to the warrant requirement, allowing the evidence to be used against the driver at trial. However, thankfully this is not the case.
In some cases, police take shortcuts, inadvertently (or intentionally) overlooking the strictures of the 4th Amendment. In such cases, the courts will keep the evidence that the officer seized out of court because it was illegally seized. For many drug offenses, this results in the dismissal of all charges, since without the admission of the drugs into evidence, there is nothing for the prosecution to move forward with.
It therefore becomes incredibly important in all drug offenses to ensure that the proper motions are filed pre-trial to keep out any and all illegally seized evidence. For questions about illegal searches and seizures in California, call a dedicated Sonoma County criminal defense attorney to speak about your case.
Have You Been Arrested and Charged with a Possessory Offense?
If you have recently been charged with a possessory offense–such as possession of narcotics or possession of a weapon–the seizure of the item likely was the result of a “search” under the terms of the U.S. and California constitutions. If so, in order to be legal, it must meet the dictates of the 4th Amendment in order for the evidence to be admitted at trial. Attorney Amy Chapman has years of experience arguing motions to suppress illegal evidence in all kinds of cases, including drug cases. To learn more about search and seizure law in Sonoma County, call (707) 636-3207 to set up a free consultation with Attorney Chapman.