CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, March 31, 2014

Smelling pot from a moving car with closed windows links to this piece at the Washington Post, discussing the ease with which police can stop cars that they suspect might be carrying drugs. Among the most interesting aspects is the discussion of cases in which cops in moving cars with closed windows claim to smell pot in other moving cars with closed windows. In part:

 In 2012, a stop of two women in Irving, Tex., made national news. The women were stopped for allegedly tossing cigarette butts out a car window. But because the officer claimed to have smelled marijuana coming from the car, the women were subjected to a thorough search of their car, and then a humiliating roadside cavity search. There was no pot.

In Virginia, a judge recently upheld the stop and search of a car in which an officer claimed he could smell pot coming from a car he was following, even though the windows in the suspect’s car and the police car were rolled up, and even though a subsequent search turned up no pot.  Last October, another judge in the same statethrew out a search in which an officer made a similar claim. There have been several other recent incidents in which cops have made questionable claims about smelling the waft of pot. See hereherehere, and here.)

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I recall driving a friend somewhere (on a freeway, @70 MPH) and, upon a foul smell hitting my nose, commenting "The driver of the car in front of us is smoking." The car was several car lengths away. Her response was, "No way, how could you possibly tell." My windows were closed and so were his. But when we passed, there was a lit cigarette in his hand.

I don't find it difficult to beiieve that active marijuana smoking in a car, or very heavy marijuana smoking being vented out of the car, could be detected from inside another vehicle. I also don't find it difficult to believe that "plain smell" is sometimes abused.

Posted by: Aaron | Apr 2, 2014 7:58:02 AM

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