As marijuana use becomes increasingly legal throughout the country, legislatures and courts are slowly establishing laws, further defining and limiting its use. For example, an issue that keeps arising is whether the smell of marijuana emanating from a car provides probable cause for the police to believe the driver of the car is operating the vehicle while intoxicated. This issue was recently addressed by a California court that ultimately found that the smell of marijuana alone was insufficient to effectuate a stop. Conversely, the issue of whether the smell of marijuana is adequate grounds to stop a driver is before the Illinois Supreme Court, with a ruling likely to be issued in the near future. If you are faced with marijuana-related DUI charges, it is in your best interest to consult a seasoned Illinois DUI defense attorney to discuss your potential defenses.
The California Ruling
It is reported that a California appellate court recently issued a ruling stating that the smell of marijuana in a vehicle is not sufficient grounds for the police to conduct a search of the entire vehicle. In that case, the police were on DUI patrol when a car without a front license plate drove by. The police stopped the car, and after approaching the vehicle, smelled marijuana. The police questioned the driver who admitted to having marijuana in his console. The police then searched the entire vehicle and found a loaded gun under the driver’s seat. The defendant was charged with possession of an illegal weapon. During the trial, the search of the defendant’s vehicle was deemed legal, but on appeal, that ruling was overturned. The court stated that marijuana use is legal, and the only evidence the police relied on as grounds to search the car was the smell of marijuana, which the court stated was not evidence of a crime.
Illinois’s Standpoint on the Issue
The issue of whether the smell of marijuana is adequate to provide a police officer probable cause to stop a motorist and search his or her vehicle was recently argued before the Illinois Supreme Court, but a ruling has not yet been issued. That case arose under similar circumstances as the California case, in that the officer stopped the defendant because he smelled an odor of marijuana coming from the defendant’s car. The defendant’s car was searched, and during the search, the police found crack cocaine, which led to the defendant being charged with drug crimes. While the stop occurred prior to the legalization of marijuana in Illinois, the argument before the Illinois Supreme Court was held after marijuana use was legalized.