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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. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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