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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. A sad end to a prolific gadfly. Indiana has suffered a great loss in the journalistic realm.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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