Is there really any privacy in a vehicle these days? Does the constitutional prohibition to unreasonable searches and seizures even apply to cars driven in Utah. One can answer these questions with an emphatic “NO!” because of Utah’s laws regarding vehicle searches and the odor of marijuana. Basically, if you get pulled over and a law enforcement officer smells marijuana, he can search your car.
Utah Law on the Issue Probable Cause Based on the Odor of Marijuana
In spite of the valiant efforts of Utah marijuana defense attorneys, courts have made the following rules: “The odor of marijuana emanating from a vehicle establishes probable cause for the warrantless search of that vehicle.” State v. Wright, 1999 UT App 86, ¶ 9, 977 P.2d 505. What’s more, containers within a vehicle can be searched if the odor of marijuana is emanating from the vehicle. Thus, if you have a backpack or suitcase in your car and the cop smells marijuana, he can search your car and the backpack/suitcase. See D.A.B., 214 P.3d 878 (Utah App. 2009). Likewise, he can search your trunk and anything in it. State v. Wright, 977 P.2d 505 (Utah App. 1999).
Practically Applying the Marijuana Exception to the Warrant Requirement
Here’s the biggest problem with the marijuana rule for car searches: it is easily subject to abuse, and in fact is abused. Think about it: who knows whether law enforcement smells the odor of burnt marijuana in your car? No one! All a cop has to do is say he smells it and that is enough. Even if marijuana has never been in the car, smoked in or around the car, or come within 1,000 feet of the car, if a cop says it, that’s all he needs! It’s crazy that this is the law not only in Utah but throughout the entire country, but it is what it is. Essentially, this exception to the warrant rule for vehicle searches swallows the rule.
Lesson of the day: the marijuana rule pretty much shreds the constitutional right to not be subjected to warrantless searches and seizures.
Our defense attorneys handle marijuana cases all over the state. We know the law inside and out on the issue so give us a call for a free consultation to Get Protected!