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How has marijuana legalization affected probable cause in New York?

On Behalf of | Aug 12, 2021 | Drug Charges |

When the police pull someone over for a moving violation, the possibility exists they may search the car. If the search uncovers illegal drugs, those persons inside the vehicle may face charges in a New York criminal court. While the law might punish those guilty of drug crimes, the Constitution protects people from illegal searches. The police cannot do whatever they feel like when searching a vehicle, as contraband seized from an unlawful search might end up inadmissible.

Vehicle searches and discovering drugs

Probable cause refers to the “reasonable grounds” that the police assume a crime has been or is being committed. When the police pull a vehicle over for speeding, something might indicate the driver or passenger did something more than committing a moving violation. The presence of spent cartridges and the smell of gun powder might imply someone recently discharged a firearm. The police may have grounds to search the vehicle for an illegal weapon.

What happens when the police smell marijuana? The probable cause might not always exist in such cases. In New York, medical and recreational marijuana is legal, so the police might not have probable cause for vehicle searches when detecting the odor.

A lack of probable cause

A police officer might smell marijuana and opt to search the vehicle. The search could uncover a significant amount of marijuana and, possibly, cocaine and heroin. Subsequent drug charges could center on intent to distribute, but the charges might not stick.

Someone may have marijuana in the vehicle, but the driver might not be under the influence. Marijuana gives off a scent even when someone doesn’t smoke it. Regardless, if the law states the scent of marijuana does not constitute probable cause, a search could be illegal. An attorney may file a motion to suppress evidence in response to any charges filed against the defendant.