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Warrantless search based on smell does not violated 4th Amendment

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Despite the absence of danger to the public, the strong odor of raw marijuana provided the probable cause a police officer needed to conduct a warrantless search.

Ashley Bell appealed her conviction for Class A misdemeanor possession of marijuana on the grounds that the warrantless search of her person during a traffic stop violated her Fourth Amendment rights.

Bell was arrested after Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer Lorrie Phillips stopped the vehicle in which Bell was a passenger for an illegally displayed temporary license plate. As Bell was exiting the vehicle, the officer smelled raw marijuana. The officer then handcuffed Bell and gave her a patdown search which led to the discovery of 10 baggies of marijuana.

On appeal, Bell argued a patdown search is justified during an investigatory stop only when a police officer is concerned for his or her safety. The search is not to be used to discover evidence of a crime.   

The Court of Appeals agreed that Phillips had no reason to believe that Bell was armed and dangerous. However, the court noted one of the exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement is a search incident to a lawful arrest.

The Court of Appeals then pointed to precedent which has allowed the odor of marijuana is enough to give probable cause for a warrantless search.

“We agree with the State’s argument that, like the smell of burnt marijuana, the smell of raw marijuana on a person is sufficient to provide probable cause that the person possesses marijuana,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the court in Ashley Bell v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1312-CR-1026. “We note that the odor of raw marijuana indicates that it has not been smoked and therefore still may be in the defendant’s possession. As such, we conclude that Officer Phillips had probable cause to arrest Bell and conduct a search incident to arrest.”

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  • ditto
    Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.
  • Harmless plant
    Future generations will be amazed that we prosecuted people for possessing a harmless plant. The New York Times came out in favor of legalization in Saturday's edition of the newspaper.

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  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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