Have you been pulled over and had your vehicle searched by the police on suspicion of marijuana? If so, you may be wondering if the odor of marijuana alone gives the police probable cause to search your vehicle. The answer is, “In most cases, it does not.”
However, let’s take a closer look at what constitutes probable cause and how it applies to searches of vehicles for marijuana. If you are facing DUI or possession of marijuana charges, contact our Bloomington criminal defense attorney at The Prior Law Firm, P.C. Our team will assess the circumstances of your arrest and determine if your constitutional rights were violated.
Fourth Amendment Rights
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens from unwarranted searches and seizures in their homes, businesses, and vehicles. The Fourth Amendment also requires that all warrantless searches must meet the standard of probable cause in order for them to be considered legal. Probable cause is a reasonable amount of suspicion that must be supported by strong circumstances to justify that certain items (e.g., marijuana odor) may be connected with criminal activity.
How Does it Relate to the Odor of Marijuana in Your Vehicle?
There must be more evidence than just an odor or even a sighting of marijuana for a search to be considered legal under the Fourth Amendment. The police must have enough evidence to reasonably suspect that any other illegal activity is taking place—such as possession of drugs or weapons—before they can conduct a valid search.
Or, if the police suspect that you are driving under the influence of marijuana, their suspicion must be based on clear observations that you are incapable of driving safely (speeding, weaving in and out of lanes, nearly hitting an object or vehicle, etc.) to arrest you for DUI.
So, does marijuana odor give the police probable cause to search your vehicle? Generally speaking, no. While it may give rise to reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is occurring, it typically does not reach the required level of certainty needed for a warrantless search of a vehicle to be legally valid under the Fourth Amendment.
Does Reasonable Suspicion Justify Searching Your Vehicle?
Even if an officer believes they know what they are smelling based on training and experience, this still does not give them probable cause. It merely gives them reasonable suspicion, which is not enough on its own to justify searching your vehicle without a warrant.
However, this situation could change depending upon any other evidence present such as open containers or paraphernalia visible in plain sight inside the car that could lead an officer to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that something illegal is going on inside your vehicle—in which case they would then have sufficient grounds for conducting a search without obtaining a warrant first.
Protect Your Rights and Freedom with The Prior Law Firm, P.C.
While there are certain exceptions where an odor alone may constitute sufficient grounds for conducting a search without obtaining prior authorization via warrant, these cases are relatively rare.
In most cases, more evidence than just an odor or sighting will be needed before law enforcement can lawfully conduct a search without a warrant or consent. If you feel that you were unjustly searched due to the marijuana smell alone, do not hesitate to seek legal advice about whether or not this constituted an unconstitutional violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. Reach out to The Prior Law Firm, P.C., for a free consultation. Call (309) 827-4300 today.