Maryland Court Rules Marijuana Odor in Car Doesn’t Justify Searching a Person

The Maryland State Court of Appeals has ruled that police officers violated a man’s Fourth Amendment rights when they conducted a warrantless search of his person, predicated on finding him in a car that smelled of marijuana.

From NPR:

“The decision stems from a case involving officers from the Montgomery County Police Department — identified only as Groger and Heffley in court papers — who came across Michael Pacheco, sitting in a Chevrolet Trailblazer in an otherwise empty parking lot one night.

As they got closer to the car, the officers say they detected the smell of “fresh burnt” marijuana. They also noticed a joint sitting in the center console; that’s when they asked Pacheco to step out of the car and they searched him. They found cocaine in his left front pocket. Then they moved on to the car, where they found a marijuana stem and two packets of rolling papers.

Pacheco was ultimately arrested and cited with a ticket for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana and charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

According to the court’s decision, had the officers merely asked him to step out of the car and searched the vehicle, they would have been perfectly within the limits of the law. But searching Pacheco himself, based on the discovery of such a small amount of pot in the car, was going too far, making the discovery of the narcotic unusable in court.”

A copy of the Court’s full Opinion can be found HERE.

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