Strong smell of marijuana makes strip search justified

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Although the man was arrested for a misdemeanor, the strong odor of marijuana that engulfed him gave law enforcement officers justification to conduct a strip search and did not violate his constitutional rights.

Michael White was stopped by Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers and arrested for leaving the scene of an accident. Officers noticed a strong smell of marijuana on White and in his car following a search but did not find any drugs.

At the Arrestee Processing Center, White was subjected to a strip search. Marion County Sheriff’s deputies subsequently found two baggies containing raw marijuana and 3.2 grams of cocaine in White’s underpants.

White was convicted of possession of cocaine, a Class C felony, and possession of marijuana, a Class A misdemeanor. He was also adjudicated as a habitual substance offender.

On appeal, White argued the strip search violated his Fourth Amendment right against warrantless searches.

The Indiana Court of Appeals found no violation and affirmed White’s conviction in Michael White v. State of Indiana, 49A05-1406-CR-243.

In Edwards v. State, 759 N.E.2d 626, 629 (Ind. 2001),  the Indiana Supreme Court found warrantless strip searches were not reasonable following a misdemeanor arrest. However, taking a closer look at that decision, the Court of Appeals concluded that the circumstances surrounding the arrest, rather than the offense itself, may give rise to a reasonable suspicion and make the search justified.

 “We conclude that although the underlying arrest constituted a misdemeanor, the strip search incident to White’s arrest was justified because of the officers’ reasonable suspicion that weapons or contraband would be introduced into the jail due to the lingering odor of marijuana which engulfed White even after having been transported to the APC,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the court.


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