Lynn v. Warden, Madison Corr. Inst. (Ohio 2020) 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 177149

Traffic Stop; Odor of marijuana as Probable Cause

Traffic stop for tinted windows and no front plate. LE detected the overwhelming scent of raw marijuana coming from inside the vehicle (based on LE’s training and experience). Passenger was found to have an arrest warrant and a caution for possessing a firearm. Both were removed from car, searched, hand cuffed and placed in separate cruisers. LE then searched the vehicle looking for the marijuana. LE found not only marijuana but additional controlled substances in the glove box and then in the trunk.

The court reviewed Ohio precedent and found that the decision in State v. Farris (2019) 109 Ohio St.3d 519 (which held that the odor of burning marijuana alone does not justify a search of a vehicle’s trunk) was not applicable to this case. Here, because LE discovered a small amount of marijuana as well as ecstasy in the glove box, that provided probable cause to expand the search to the trunk of the vehicle, stating the smell of raw marijuana provides different probable cause than the odor of burnt marijuana. Citing U.S. v. Ashby (10th Cir. 2018) 864 F.2d 690 and U.S. v. Bowman (10th Cir. 1973) 487 F.2d 1229, the court determined that the odor of raw marijuana, especially an overwhelming odor of raw marijuana, creates probable cause to believe that a large quantity of raw marijuana will be found. Under such circumstances, an officer may rationally conclude that a large quantity of raw marijuana would be located in a vehicle’s trunk (therefore, a presumptively illegal amount). The court also noted that, in this case, an additional controlled substance was found in the glove box (ecstasy) which also provided probable cause to search the trunk.