U.S. v. Clark (Alabama 2020) 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 177685

Odor of Marijuana as Probable Cause

Report of a burglary suspect fleeing in a silver car. Car pulled into a parking spot at an apartment property. LE parked near car without blocking it or activating emergency equipment. As driver exited, LE could smell a strong odor of marijuana. Driver told to “hop back in right quick.” When asked, driver said he had a little bit of weed. This did not account for the strong smell, according to LE. LE asked driver to hand over a book bag on the back seat. LE searched in the bag for weapons and more marijuana, finding contraband. Driver determined later that he was not a suspect in the burglary.

Court held that the initial encounter was consensual as LE did not use any coercion (no emergency lights or siren). However, the court determined that this encounter quickly turned into a detention when LE told the driver to hop back in right quick as LE smelled the odor of marijuana. The court further held that this odor gave LE probable cause to investigate marijuana crime(s) as LE had the training and experience to know that the strong smell meant that there was a significant amount of marijuana in the vehicle.