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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. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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