Sidney Bonham and his brother were stopped on I-71 north in Delaware County when they were stopped by Delaware County Sheriff's Deputy Beggs for a "marked lanes" violation. Upon approaching the vehicle, Deputy Beggs testified that he could smell the odoro of marijuana. He separated the Bonham brothers from the vehicle and conducted a search.
Automobile searches are permissible provided there is probable cause to believe there is contraband in the vehicle. The alleged odor of marijuana was the fact that the deputy used to justify the search. While he was searching the vehicle he observed marijuana "shake" within the compartment. As he was searching the back seat, he testified that he could smell the odor of raw marijuana.
Trunk searches are normally not permissible unless the officer smells raw marijuana. There are factors that a police officer must testify about to make such a search constitutional. For instance, he must be credible. He must have experience with raw marijuana. He must have training in detection of drugs. Deputy Beggs did, in fact, discover 15 one gallon plastic bags of raw marijuana in the trunk.
The defense presented expert testimony challenging the credibility of the deputy's testimony about smelling raw marijuana in plastic bags in the trunk. The trial judge elected to believe the testimony of the deputy and the trial court did not disturb the judge's decision.
This case is a perfect example of a trunk search that yielded contraband. The odds of this deputy actually smellling raw marijuana, as bundled, is quite low. The fact the marijuana was discovered was coincidental. Had the trunk been empty, the fact the deputy claimed to smell raw marijuana but was wrong would never have been recorded. Therefore, raw marijuana trunk search cases are always going to result in the discovery of raw marijuana.
Until trunk searches are documented and recorded by law, these fishing expeditions will continue to occur. .