Trunk Searches & Odor of Marijuana


I just finished a case where my client was coming back from a festival in Michigan with two of her friends. My client was a backseat passenger and her friends were in the front of the vehicle. The vehicle was pulled over for speeding. The trooper stated he could smell the odor of burning marijuana and ordered the occupants out.

The occupants admitted there was marijuana in the passenger compartment which the trooper found. He placed them all under arrest. He then moved on to the trunk. He found a duffel bag loaded with every hallucinogen and party drug you can imagine. The case jumped up to 3rd degree felony drug trafficking and possession.

The question is, "Can a police officer search a locked trunk after arresting someone for marijuana possession?"

The Ohio Supreme Court has recognized that "[o]nce a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a vehicle contains contraband, he or she may search a validly stopped motor vehicle based upon the well-established automobile exception to the warrant requirement." State v. Moore, 90 Ohio St.3d 47, 51, 2000 Ohio 10, 734 N.E.2d 804 (holding that the [**12] odor of marijuana justified an automobile search).

Additionally, in State v. Greenwood, 2nd Dist. No. 19820, 2004 Ohio 2737, the court noted that an officer's observation of marijuana on the passenger seat and floorboard gave him probable cause to believe that the vehicle contained contraband. Therefore, he was entitled to search the entire vehicle, including the trunk and its contents. Greenwood, supra, at ¶11, citing United States v. Ross (1982), 456 U.S. 798, 102 S.Ct. 2157, 72 L.Ed.2d 572.

Just several weeks ago, the 5th District Court of Appeals held: "we find that in the present case, Trooper Wilson had sufficient probable cause to search the trunk of the vehicle. He smelled burnt marijuana and found marijuana in the passenger compartment of the car in plain view. In addition, Appellant gave him a false name, and the driver of the vehicle made an attempt to get into the trunk as she was walking towards Trooper Wilson's cruiser." State v. Whatley, 2011 Ohio 2297, P29-P30 (Ohio Ct. App., Licking County May 9, 2011)