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Is odor enough to justify a warrantless search in Indiana?

Probable cause has always been a controversial subject when it comes to OWI arrests. While it may play a big part in several arrests for those guilty of the crime, there have been people unfairly arrested either for police not having sufficient reasoning or relying solely on that reasoning and nothing else.

When it comes to arresting potential drug users, one of the most common probable causes officers use to justify searching a house or vehicle is that they smell pot on the suspect. Since this cause has varied in its usage throughout the nation, Indiana residents should know how applicable it is to them.

Siding with the smell

There are many examples of Indiana cases that side with the officer that detected a strong marijuana scent. An early example came in 1998's Cody v. State. In the report, the court stated that no reported Indiana cases had probable cause that solely relied on the odor, but they justified siding with the decision as recent cases around featured courts siding with the similar reasoning of other officers. Even cases as recent as 2017's State of Indiana v. James Parrott believe that the odor of raw marijuana are sufficient grounds for a warrantless search.

However, there are some instances where the officer’s justification of the scent isn’t enough to sway the court. In Adam Miller v. State of Indiana, an officer arrested a young man after finding marijuana and a device that emitted a lingering burnt pot odor in his backpack as the man’s car was towed for an expired license plate ticket.

The man successfully appealed to the court as the officer did not cite any suspicion he had to criminal activity, as there was no evidence that the odor was emanating from the vehicle. The officer instead claimed that he was searching for contraband from smelling the drug on the man and found his actions were suspicious.

April’s aromas

April is arguably one of the most dangerous months of the year when it comes to smelling like marijuana. Many college students are taking weeks off for spring break, and plenty of them plan to celebrate by smoking a joint or two now that they can get the substance legally in Michigan. Additionally, there’s the infamous April 20, where police are on high alert for any signs of marijuana usage in the state.

With these conditions, you need to be very careful who you spend time with and where you go in the state. If someone smokes pot near you in a house, at a concert or in an alleyway, that scent is stuck on you for a while. Even though the state’s history with probable cause and pot scents has had mixed results, there have still been plenty of cases where they side with the officer’s sense of smell, so make sure you know where to contact a criminal defense attorney if you face wrongful accusations.

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