Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Smell Test Fail

A decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals

“The times they are a-changin’.”

—Bob Dylan, The Times They Are a-Changin’

It is by now well known that the laws in Maryland and elsewhere addressing the possession and use of marijuana have changed. Those changes naturally have compelled examination of how the affected laws are to be interpreted and applied consistent with the dictates of other law including, here, the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Presented in this case is a question of first impression. That question, as framed in the brief of Petitioner Michael Pacheco, is

whether police are authorized to arrest a person for the criminal offenses of possession of more than ten grams of marijuana and/or possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, based solely on facts indicating that the person is committing the civil offense of possession of less than ten grams of marijuana.

For reasons that follow, we answer that question in the negative.

The appropriately characterized Head Note

In the post-decriminalization era, the mere odor of marijuana coupled with possession of what is clearly less than ten grams of marijuana, absent other circumstances, does not grant officers probable cause to effectuate an arrest and conduct a search incident thereto. It is well established that individuals have a heighted expectation of privacy in their person as compared to their automobile, meaning the probable cause analysis for the search incident to arrest exception versus the automobile exception will often differ given the respective justifications for those exceptions and the facts and circumstances of each case. Thus, although Petitioner’s possession of a marijuana cigarette along with the odor of marijuana may have given the officers probable cause to search his vehicle, it did not grant them probable cause to arrest him and conduct a search incident thereto.

(Mike Frisch)



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