Reversal: ‘Odor of raw marijuana’ sufficient grounds for search

A police officer who said he detected “a strong odor of raw marijuana” coming from a car during a traffic stop had probable cause to search the driver, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in reversing a trial court.

An Indianapolis police officer stopped a car driven by James Parrott after he said Parrott ran a stop sign. After smelling the odor, the officer searched Parrott, finding small quantities of marijuana, crack cocaine and Percocet pills. According to the record, Parrott attempted to flee officers at the scene but was quickly apprehended.

Parrott was charged with Level 6 felony counts of cocaine and narcotic drug possession, Class B misdemeanor marijuana possession, and two Class A misdemeanor counts of resisting law enforcement. A Marion Superior judge suppressed the evidence found in the search, prompting the state to appeal.

“Parrott filed a motion to dismiss the State’s appeal, arguing that the State was required to dismiss the charges before it could appeal the suppression order. Because the ultimate effect of the order is to preclude further prosecution of the drug-related charges, at a minimum, we deny Parrott’s motion to dismiss,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the panel. Crone wrote that the state was not required to dismiss the charges before filing a notice of interlocutory appeal on the motion to suppress.

Likewise, the panel concluded that the facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge were sufficient to warrant a reasonable belief that Parrott possessed marijuana.

“The State argues that the trial court erred in granting Parrott’s motion to dismiss, asserting that the officer had probable cause to arrest Parrott based on the strong odor of raw marijuana emanating from his vehicle and conduct a warrantless search incident to that arrest. We agree and therefore reverse and remand for further proceedings,” the panel held.  

The case is State of Indiana v. James Parrott, 49A02-1606-CR-1271.

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