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Court decides 2nd marijuana-odor case in 2 days

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Continuing a line of holdings during the past decade, the Indiana Court of Appeals has clearly stated that the odor of raw marijuana can be enough for police to search someone during a valid traffic stop.

The state’s intermediate appellate court issued a ruling Friday in Charles Meek v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1009-CR-964, affirming a Marion Superior commissioner’s denial of a man’s motion to suppress evidence discovered during a warrantless pat-down search following a valid Terry stop of his vehicle.

This case is similar to the one a different three-judge panel decided Thursday in Shon L. Edmond v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-1012-CR-756, when analyzing an issue of first impression on whether the smell of burnt marijuana constitutes probable cause for police to search someone. That panel determined the search didn’t violate a person’s rights, and similar logic is now being applied here.

In November 2009, an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer saw Eric Moore suspiciously walking away from his disabled vehicle that appeared to have been in a collision. Another car, driven by Charles Meek, pulled up and picked up Moore, and then drove off. The officer followed based on the belief that Moore and Meek were leaving the scene of an accident. He initiated a traffic stop because the windows were darkly tinted in violation of state law and he couldn’t see inside. When the driver rolled the window down, the officer saw three people inside – including a young child – and smelled what he believed to be raw marijuana coming from inside. Another officer arrived on the scene as backup and also smelled raw marijuana.

The original officer on the scene asked if anyone had weapons or contraband and were told no, but after the officer read them their Miranda rights, Meek told police he had a weapon. Officers conducted a pat-down search of both men and found $1,900 in cash and a legally permitted gun in Meek’s pants, but no sign of marijuana. When police asked about the raw marijuana smell from inside, Meek said he’d been smoking marijuana earlier – that led to a more thorough pat-down search because the officers had smelled raw, not burnt marijuana. The second search resulted in a baggie containing marijuana falling from Meek’s pant leg, as well as some white pills suspected to be Vicodin and Hydrocodone.

That led the state to charge Meek with one count of class D felony possession of a controlled substance, and he moved to suppress the evidence obtained during the search on grounds that officers conducted the pat-down without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. The trial court denied that motion and certified the issue for interlocutory appeal.

Specifically, Meek isn’t challenging the traffic-stop validity or the vehicle search. Rather, he contended that the odor of raw marijuana emanating from inside his vehicle didn’t extend probable cause for police to search him personally as they did. That was a violation of his rights under Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution, he claimed.

The Court of Appeals disagreed. Four years ago in Marcum v. State, 843 N.E.2d 546 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), the judges upheld a police search based on the smell of raw marijuana, and they specifically declined an invitation to hold that police officers’ detection of the odor of marijuana cannot serve as probable cause for a search unless that odor is independently confirmed by a police dog.

Taking that holding along with other precedent such as Lark v. State, 759 N.E.2d 275 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001), the appellate court in Meek’s case looked at the entirety of the situation police faced at the time. The judges cited that Meek originally lied about having a weapon or contraband, his later admission to possessing a weapon, the smell of raw marijuana from the vehicle, and his statement that he’d smoked earlier that day.

“All of those facts taken together, along with the officer’s failure to find the source of the odor of marijuana in the vehicle, and the absence of Moore’s person, supported the subsequent and more thorough pat-down search of Meek’s person that ultimately led to the discovery of the contraband. We find no violation here as the search was reasonable in light of the totality of the circumstances.”
 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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