The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that the smell of marijuana alone is not a valid reason for the police to search a vehicle, eliminating a long-time justification for pretextual stops.
The ruling says that there must be other factors that encourage police to initiate a stop. The ruling is an affirmation of a previous ruling made by the court.
“The court, never in its history, has said that the smell of marijuana could be the only reason that a law enforcement officer uses to search a vehicle,” Blunt Strategies Public Policy and Government Relations Specialist Kurtis Hanna said. “I think it’s very beneficial for them to be explicit that they think this is not a valid thing to do.”
The case is a two-year-long appeal by a Litchfield man who was arrested and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia after an officer initiated a warrantless search, claiming that he smelled marijuana. The charges against the man were later dropped after a district court said the smell of marijuana alone is not enough to justify a search. The Minnesota Supreme Court wrote in its decision, “The odor of marijuana is one of the circumstances in the totality of circumstances analysis that should be considered in determining if there is a “fair probability” that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in the location searched.”
Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea dissented, stating “Because marijuana is contraband in Minnesota, the smell of marijuana coming from inside a car would lead a reasonable and prudent person considering the factual and practical considerations of everyday life to conclude that there likely will be marijuana in the car. Accordingly, there was probable cause to search the car.”
The ruling now sets a precedent that Hanna says will provide further protection against unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.