Search and seizure: Appeals court overturns judge’s suppression of marijuana found in car trunk

This appeal presents the issue whether police officers may reasonably search the trunk of an automobile where there was an odor of burnt marijuana in the vehicle, where the driver of the automobile admitted that he and the vehicle’s other occupants had been smoking marijuana in the automobile, and where two marijuana cigarettes as well as marijuana remnants were found in the passenger compartment. The Commonwealth appeals from a Superior Court judge’s allowance of the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence seized from the trunk. The appeals court reversed.

The full text of the opinion may be found here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/33866062/Commonwealth-v-Degray

Where a judge suppressed evidence found by the police in the trunk of the defendant’s vehicle, the suppression order must be reversed given the presence of marijuana in the passenger compartment of the vehicle.

“This appeal presents the issue whether police officers may reasonably search the trunk of an automobile where there was an odor of burnt marijuana in the vehicle, where the driver of the automobile admitted that he and the vehicle’s other occupants had been smoking marijuana in the automobile, and where two marijuana cigarettes as well as marijuana remnants were found in the passenger compartment. …

“… First, observing a marijuana cigarette, even if devoid of a ‘characteristic burning odor,’ provides a trained police officer with ‘probable cause … to seize the cigarette, examine it, and investigate for the presence of other controlled substances.’ … Second, to justify the search of a trunk, there must be a connection between the vehicle and the contraband. …

“In sum, we conclude that the search of the trunk in this case was reasonable. In [Commonwealth v. Garden, 451 Mass. 43 (2008)], the smell of burnt marijuana on the clothes of the automobile’s occupants did not, in the absence of any physical evidence, give rise to the inference that marijuana had been smoked in the vehicle, and that marijuana might reasonably be found elsewhere in the vehicle. Here, by contrast, the officers found two marijuana cigarettes and marijuana remnants inside the automobile, establishing a connection between contraband and the vehicle. In addition, the driver of the automobile admitted that he and his passengers had been smoking marijuana in the vehicle, and the officer smelled burnt marijuana in the vehicle. All of these factors support a connection between the contraband and the automobile, a connection not present in Garden. As the court noted in Garden, … the discovery of even a small amount of contraband in the passenger compartment, which might only be for personal use, can extend the scope of the search to include the trunk. Contrary to the defendant’s contention, the scope of the search extending to the trunk was ‘justified by the circumstances.’ …”

About Attorney John J. MacLaughlan

John MacLaughlan is Massachusetts licensed attorney as well as a Boston police officer. John is currently assigned to the Youth Violence Strike Force (Gang Unit). He is a graduate of the Massachusetts School of Law with a concentration in Labor Law. He holds a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell as well as a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. John has taught Defensive Tactics, Firearms, Use of Force, Applied Patrol Procedures, and Police Response to Active Shooters to sworn police officers and police academy recruits. Prior to becoming a Boston Police Officer, John served for 9 years as a police officer in Lowell, where he was a member of the Police Dive Team and Patrol Rifle Team.
This entry was posted in Criminal Law & Procedure. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s