Warrantless Search of Motor Vehicle Driver Based on Odor of Marijuana

August 29, 2013 in 4th Amendment Rights, Marijuana, Uncategorized, Unwarranted Search

Imagine a scenario involving a police officer that detects marijuana odor coming from a motor vehicle, its driver, or both. Is that officer allowed to conduct a warrantless search of the motor vehicle driver? In order to determine whether such a warrantless search is permissible under the Fourth Amendment (which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures), a court must determine whether probable cause existed for the warrantless search.

In People v. Strong, 215 Ill. App. 3d 484 (1991), an officer stopped the defendant driver for a traffic violation and, on approaching the driver, detected what he believed to be the smell of burning cannabis. This court upheld the officer’s apparent search of the defendant driver and his vehicle, for the proposition that a police officer’s detection of controlled substances by smell is a permissible method of establishing probable cause for a search.

Further, In People v. Stout, 106 Ill. 2d 77 (1985), the court held that where a trained and experienced police officer detects the odor of cannabis emanating from a defendant’s vehicle, additional corroboration is not required in order to establish probable cause for a warrantless search of the defendant. Additionally, the court also pointed out that distinctive odors can be persuasive evidence of probable cause and that a police officer’s detection of controlled substances by their smell, in particular, is a permissible method of establishing probable cause.

In conclusion, distinctive marijuana odors coming from a motor vehicle is generally persuasive evidence for a trained and experienced police officer to establish probable cause for a warrantless search of the motor vehicle driver.

(1) People v. Strong, 215 Ill. App. 3d 484 (1991)
(2) People v. Stout, 106 Ill. 2d 77 (1985)