Maryland Marijuana Case Sets Standard For Police Searches Of Crime Suspects

August 21, 2019 by Tom Ramstack

A ruling last week by Maryland’s highest court is likely to help redefine the criminal law of marijuana possession as states nationwide search for new legal standards.

A unanimous Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that police who smell marijuana can use the odor to justify a search of a vehicle but not a person. A person can be searched only if there is probable cause to believe the suspects were involved in separate crimes, the court said.

“The same facts and circumstances that justify a search of an automobile do not necessarily justify an arrest and search incident thereto. This is based on the heightened expectation of privacy one enjoys in his or her person as compared to the diminished expectation of privacy one has in an automobile,” the court’s opinion says.

Like Maryland, 10 other states allow sales and recreational use of small amounts of marijuana. Another 15 states have decriminalized possession of the drug for personal use.

In 2014, the Maryland legislature downgraded possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana from a crime to a civil offense. It still can result in citations and fines of $100.

The state justices noted evolving popular opinions about marijuana by placing a lyric from a Bob Dylan song, “The Times They Are a-Changin,” in a notation at the top of their order.

The opinion was issued in the case of Michael Pacheco, who was sitting in a parked vehicle outside a laundromat in Wheaton, Md., on May 26, 2016, holding a marijuana cigarette.

Two Montgomery County Police officers nearby testified they smelled “fresh burnt” marijuana and saw a marijuana cigarette in the vehicle’s center console.

The officers searched the car and Pacheco, finding cocaine in his left front pocket. He was arrested, charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and given a citation for marijuana possession.

Pacheco’s attorney moved to suppress evidence of the cocaine, arguing the search of his person was illegal because officers lacked probable cause to believe he possessed 10 grams or more of marijuana.

Prosecutors said the marijuana odor established probable cause to search the vehicle and Pacheco.

The Maryland Court of Appeals agreed with Pacheco. The police search and arrest “was unreasonable because nothing in the record suggests that possession of a joint and the odor of burnt marijuana gave the police probable cause to believe he was in possession of a criminal amount of that substance,” the court’s opinion said.

The court’s previous decisions granted exceptions to citizens’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights when police searched them during an arrest or when illegal items were seen in their automobiles.

In those cases, police did not need a search warrant.

Pacheco’s case was different, the Maryland court said. The smell of marijuana was not enough evidence for an arrest and search now that the drug is legalized in the state.

In an age of decriminalization, courts nationwide “have grappled with the constitutionality of searches and seizures” based on marijuana smell, the ruling said.

Recent court decisions in other states have reached similar conclusions.

In Pennsylvania, a state court judge ruled state troopers lacked probable cause to search a vehicle after smelling marijuana during a traffic stop. The evidence showed the man who was stopped carried a medical marijuana card.

In Florida, some prosecutors support an “odor-plus” standard in which marijuana smell is only one of several factors that proves probable cause to search suspects.

The case is Michael Pacheco v. State of Maryland, Maryland Ct. App., Case No. 17, September Term, 2018.

In The News

Health

Voting

State News

New Caucus Aims to Bring Main Street Priorities to Capitol Hill
Congress
New Caucus Aims to Bring Main Street Priorities to Capitol Hill
April 22, 2021
by TWN Staff

Eighteen members of Congress on Wednesday announced the formation of a new Congressional Caucus whose intent is to ensure that the priorities and concerns of cities and counties across America are heard on Capitol Hill. The bipartisan Congressional Caucus of Former Local Elected Officials was formed... Read More

35 States at Extreme Risk of Partisan Gerrymandering
In The States
35 States at Extreme Risk of Partisan Gerrymandering
April 16, 2021
by TWN Staff

Thirty-five states are at extreme or high risk of partisan gerrymandering, according to an in-depth report by the nonpartisan RepresentUs organization. The Gerrymandering Threat Index rates all 50 states, and its authors argue their findings underscore the urgent need to pass the redistricting reforms within the... Read More

Plan Afoot to Extend PPP Deadline to May 31
In The News
Plan Afoot to Extend PPP Deadline to May 31

WASHINGTON - A bipartisan bill to extend the Paycheck Protection Program to May 31 is gaining support in the House and the Senate and will likely be voted on before lawmakers head back to their districts at the end of the month. The proposal to extend... Read More

Cherry Blossom Peak Bloom Date Announced
District of Columbia
Cherry Blossom Peak Bloom Date Announced
March 2, 2021
by TWN Staff

WASHINGTON - It’s hard to believe it’s almost that time of year again, but on Monday came word that the peak bloom for the cherry blossoms ringing the Tidal Basin in Washington is currently expected to occur April 2-5.  That means the most vivid of blooms... Read More

Once the Mainstream Model, Michigan GOP Embraces Right Wing
In The States
Once the Mainstream Model, Michigan GOP Embraces Right Wing

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Josh Venable, a longtime Michigan GOP operative and chief of staff to former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, can trace the arc of the state's Republican Party clearly."This was the state where to be Republican was defined by Gerald Ford and George... Read More

What NY Prosecutors Could Learn from Trump's Tax Records
In The States
What NY Prosecutors Could Learn from Trump's Tax Records

NEW YORK (AP) — Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. fought for a year and a half to get access to former President Donald Trump's tax records.Now, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, he will soon have them. But what will that mean for... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top