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CRIMINAL 19: Traffic stop leads to vehicle search after the smell of marijuana.

In this case, Police Officer W observed a vehicle apparently speeding on a residential street in Detroit. Officer W commenced a traffic stop of the vehicle and the two persons who were in the car. Defendant was in the driver’s seat. Officer W approached the vehicle on the driver’s side, spoke with defendant, and smelled an odor of freshly burned marijuana from the vehicle.

Officer W then asked defendant to exit the vehicle. Officer W explained that, because of the freshly burnt marijuana that was emitting from the vehicle, he asked defendant to step out of the car.

Vehicle Search

The smell led Officer W to suspect that defendant possibly was under the influence of marijuana while driving. A field sobriety test was not conducted on defendant. Immediately after defendant stepped out, Officer W began to search the vehicle. This search resulted in the finding of cocaine. The cocaine was packaged in two clear knotted bags. One bag was located beneath the driver’s seat. The other bag was discovered in the arm rest.


Defense counsel raised Fourth Amendment issues about the traffic stop and the vehicle search. The defense argued the smell of marijuana itself doesn’t give him the right to search an individual’s vehicle. He asked defendant to step out immediately. He didn’t know if the defendant was under the influence.

Probable Cause

The court stated the defendant does not have to be under the influence, because the law states that you can’t operate a motor vehicle while smoking marijuana. You don’t even have to be under the influence. You cannot have or operate a motor vehicle while smoking marijuana. Smoking marijuana, in and itself, that’s what gave Officer W probable cause.

The smell of burned marijuana does provide probable cause to search a defendant’s vehicle, in that the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act does not allow for the use of marijuana in a vehicle or in a place opened to the public. You don’t necessarily have to be under the influence of marijuana, but the use of marijuana suffices.

Facing Criminal Charges

When you are facing criminal charges, no matter how seemingly minor, it is important to quickly secure effective legal representation. Even if you avoid jail and steep fines, a misdemeanor arrest and conviction can stay on your record for years. Do not delay if you are facing criminal charges.

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