Good News: Yes, there are police searches that some courts will not justify after the fact
Some good news on the privacy and rights from comes in one of those all-too-rare decisions that puts some limits on the powers of police. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court - the state supreme court - has ruled that police can't stop motorists solely because they suspect the vehicle's occupants are carrying marijuana.
Elivette Rodriguez was a passenger in a car stopped by police in 2012 after they allegedly detected the smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle. During the stop, police found a bag containing 60 Percocet pills, and Rodriguez was charged with possession with intent to distribute and other offenses.
Before trial, Rodriguez filed a motion to suppress the evidence from the search, arguing that since the state had decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008, the mere odor of marijuana coming from the car did not create sufficient probable cause to undertake the traffic stop and subsequent search.
The trial judge denied that motion, but put the trial on hold while Rodriguez appealed. And by 5-2, the SJC agreed with Rodriguez.
As a result, the state will drop the prosecution of Rodriguez because it no longer has any evidence.
Justice Margot Botsford, writing for the majority of the Court, relied heavily on that 2008 referendum, which reduced possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to a civil violation - and on two previous cases in which the SJC said the smell of marijuana does not provide grounds for police to order occupants to exit a car or to search a vehicle without a warrant.
Which means, in fact, that the present case is just a minor and essentially technical expansion on those previous ones, on the principle of "smell is not enough."
Which is good news both for sensible marijuana laws and for the idea that yes, there actually are limits on what cops can do with the expectation that courts will find a way to justify it after the fact.
However, the fact that the cops were prepared to do it (and defend it) and prosecutors were prepared to argue for it and two members of the SJC were prepared to agree with them in spite of the clear precedents shows that the issue is not going away.
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