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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. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

  2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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