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COA: Lingering odor of burnt marijuana does not justify warrantless search

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No possibility of danger or smell of marijuana was evident, and that was enough to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals to suppress evidence found during a police officer’s search of a motorist’s backpack.  

The COA reversed the trial court’s denial of Adam Miller’s motion to suppress in Adam Miller v. State of Indiana, 53A-05-1211-CR-560. A majority of the court held the trial court erred, but in his dissent, Judge Cale Bradford countered there was probable cause to search Miller’s backpack.

Miller was pulled over by Bloomington police officer Jordan Hasler for driving with an expired license plate sticker. When Hasler decided to tow the car because of its expired sticker, Miller said he needed to retrieve his cell phone and backpack from inside the car. The officer got the backpack and as he searched it for weapons, found marijuana and a smoking device that emitted burnt marijuana odor.

Miller was arrested and charged with possession of paraphernalia, a Class A misdemeanor.

In his motion to suppress the evidence, Miller alleged, in part, violations of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. When the trial court denied Miller’s motion, the defendant filed a motion to correct error and a motion to certify the trial court’s order for interlocutory appeal.

 Miller appealed, arguing the officer’s warrantless search of the backpack was not based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or reasonable safety concerns.

The Court of Appeals agreed. It noted when a search is conducted without a warrant, the state has the burden of proving that an exception to the warrant requirement existed. In this instance, the officer could not point to articulable facts supporting either a suspicion of criminal activity or a concern over the possibility of harm.

Subsequently, the COA ruled that the search of Miller’s backpack was impermissible under the Fourth Amendment.

The court of appeals rejected the trial court’s reasoning that the search falls within the automobile exception. It found there is no evidence that the odor of marijuana emanated from the vehicle and Hasler did not testify that the vehicle smelled of marijuana.

In his dissent, Bradford maintained the search was supported by probable cause that contraband might be found in the impounded car.

Bradford stated that even though Hasler did not indicate he detected the odor of burnt marijuana coming from Miller’s vehicle, Hasler did detect the odor of burnt marijuana on Miller and Miller’s actions during the traffic stop were suspicious and raised a reasonable inference that his vehicle contained contraband.

 

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

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  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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