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Can the police search my car if they smell marijuana? - II

Last week, we started exploring whether law enforcement officials have the right to search a person's car during the course of a traffic stop if they smell marijuana. Specifically, we started exploring State v. Betz, a case which very much seems to indicate that they can indeed conduct such a search.

In today's post, we'll continue our exploration of this seminal 2002 decision by the Supreme Court of Florida.

In its decision affirming in part and reversing in part, the Second District Court of Appeal held that once the police officers who pulled Betz over detected the odor of marijuana both on his clothes and inside his vehicle, they had sufficient probable cause to search not only his person for weapons and contraband, but the interior of his vehicle as well.

The court went on the rule, however, that the probable cause which existed to search the interior of the vehicle did not extend to the trunk or containers therein, meaning the marijuana discovered inside Betz's trunk should have been suppressed.

Prosecutors subsequently appealed this reversal regarding the suppression of the marijuana seized from Betz's trunk to the state Supreme Court.

While a complete examination of the high court's decision in this case is clearly beyond the scope of a single blog post, the court essentially held that the smell of marijuana on Betz coupled with the totality of the circumstances -- his nervous reactions during interactions with officers and the discovery of marijuana on his person -- provided sufficient probable cause to search the entire vehicle.

In other words, the Betz decision seems to stand for the proposition that not only does the smell of marijuana alone provide officers with probable cause to conduct a search of a person and the interior of their vehicle during a traffic stop, but that this smell, if present with other factors, can provide probable cause to search an entire vehicle.  

Please remember to consider speaking with a skilled legal professional if you've been charged with any sort of drug crime. Together, you can work to determine whether your rights have been violated in any manner, including via an unconstitutional search.

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