Monday, June 27, 2016

Colorado Supreme Court: Odor of Marijuana a Valid Factor in Warrantless Auto Search

The Colorado Supreme Court today ruled that, although personal consumption of small quantities of marijuana is legal in the state, the odor of marijuana, along with other suspicious factors viewed under the totality of circumstances, can be considered in determining whether probable cause exists to conduct a warrantless search of an automobile.

In People v. Zuniga, the Court approved a warrantless search by a Colorado State Trooper of an automobile from which an odor of burned marijuana was emanating.  The Court held that, although personal consumption of marijuana is legal in Colorado, there are other laws pertaining to the illegal possession of marijuana that may have been in play, and the odor, along with the nervous demeanor of the occupants, their diverging stories, and the alert of a drug-sniffing canine, was sufficient to constitute probable cause to search the vehicle in this case.

It is important to remember that a law enforcement agent cannot search an automobile with out a warrant unless he has probable cause that criminal activity has occurred or is occurring.  Absent probable cause or a warrant, an officer must obtain consent of the driver/owner in order to search the automobile.  Consent must be voluntary and not the product of coercion or trickery.  A person is NEVER required to give consent to search his person or property.

Ascertaining the constitutionality of an officer's conduct requires an experienced criminal attorney, so it is important to consult with capable counsel when confronted with a criminal charge.

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