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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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  1. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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