Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona drug case involving the automobile exception to the search warrant requirement. According to the court’s opinion, an officer initiated a traffic stop of a vehicle with two passengers after noticing the vehicle swerve across the fog line of a highway in Arizona. During the traffic stop, the officer smelled marijuana, saw a marijuana dispensary bag, smelled air fresheners in the vehicle, and noticed a radar detector on the windshield. The officer used a plate reader to determine that the vehicle had driven into California earlier that day and had made a similar one-day trip to California a few months ago.
The officer determined that the driver was not impaired. As the officer was preparing paperwork to issue a warning, the officer asked the driver about their relationship to one another and where they were headed, to which the driver responded. After escorting the driver back to his car, the officer questioned the other passenger about their relationship to one another and where they were headed. The driver of the vehicle and the passenger of the vehicle gave different answers. The passenger then admitted to there being a small amount of marijuana in the dispensary bag. The officer issued the warning.
The officer then asked the driver about the bag, and the driver stated that there was no marijuana in the car. Neither passenger presented a medical marijuana card. The officer detained both passengers and found various drugs and instruments in the vehicle.
At trial, the court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress based on the officer’s reasonable suspicion for the stop.
The Appellate Decision
On appeal, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion to suppress. The appellate court explained that under the automobile exception, a vehicle can be searched without a warrant if there is probable cause or reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime has been committed. The smell of marijuana may give an officer probable cause to search in some cases, but generally only when combined with other factors.
Here, the officer’s initial stop was justified because he had reasonable suspicion that the driver of the vehicle could have been impaired or asleep due to the vehicle driving over highway fog lines. Also, the officer had probable cause to search the vehicle after smelling marijuana and smelling a strong scent of air fresheners, suggesting that the passengers attempted to conceal drugs. Additionally, the passengers gave conflicting information about their relationship and where they were headed. Thus, the court determined that there was probable cause to search the vehicle under the automobile exception.
Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona Marijuana Offense?
If you were recently arrested for a marijuana offense in Arizona, including possession, selling, cultivating, or driving under the influence, contact the Law Office of James E. Novak. Attorney Novak has extensive experience as a criminal defense lawyer handling all types of serious drug crimes. Attorney Novak provides clients with zealous advocacy. Call the Law Office of James E. Novak at 480-413-4199 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your criminal defense.