Andrew H. Stevenson, Attorney At Law
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November 2015 Archives

Can a Police Officer Search My Car Because He Smells Marijuana?

In Ohio, the smell of Marijuana is probable cause for a search of a vehicle. The Ohio Supreme Court in State v. Moore (2000), 90 Ohio St.3d 47 held that the smell of marijuana alone, by a person qualified to recognize the odor, is sufficient to establish probable cause to search a motor vehicle and the driver. If you are pulled over and an officer indicates that he smells marijuana he has the legal right to search your entire vehicle and you. He may detain you while the search is being conducted.

Do I Have to Let the Police Search My Car If I Am Pulled Over?

Just because you are pulled over does not automatically give police the right to search your vehicle. Law enforcement may only search a vehicle, home, person or thing if they have: (1) a search warrant, (2) consent, or (3) probable cause (a reasonable ground for belief of guilt). The mere fact that you are pulled over for a traffic violation is not probable cause to search your car. An officer would need additional "justification" or probable cause to search. Because of this, officers often ask for your permission or consent to search. However, you never have to let the police search your car or home just because they ask. All persons have an absolute constitutional right to say NO if they are asked to consent to a search, and saying no is not, in and of itself, grounds for a search. Law enforcement usually requests consent to search because it eliminates the need for a warrant or probable cause. Obtaining a warrant is a time-consuming process and probable cause often does not exist. 

Should I Consent to a Search of My Car or Home?

The short answer is "no." If your neighbor or the mailman knocked on your door and asked to look through every drawer and inmate area of your home, you would think he was crazy and slam the door shut. Likewise, if a BMV agent asked to search your car when you went to renew your license, you would refuse. Why then would you voluntarily let a police officer search your home or car just because he asked?

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