A Norfolk, Va. judge decided that police can pull over drivers whose cars smell of marijuana, even when they are driving around with their windows up.
“I don’t find it inherently incredible,” said Circuit Judge Everett Martin before making his ruling Thursday. “I find it quite believable.”
The judge was trying a case in which a man was arrested after being stopped for precisely that reason, the Virginian-Pilot reports. Officer Robert Frenier testified that he was on duty last December when he smelled pot through his patrol car’s vents. The smell seemed to be emanating from the Dodge Neon in front of them, he and the other two officers in the car surmised.
They followed the offending car four blocks at a distance of car length or two before pulling the driver over.
“I wanted to make sure it was coming from where I thought,” Frenier explained in court.
One of the driver’s brake lights was also out, but Frenier said he did not mention it in his report and wasn’t certain which one was out. It was the pot smell, he said, that prompted the stop.
The cops searched the vehicle and found no marijuana. The driver admitted to police that he had previously smoked pot in the car, Frenier said on the stand.
But officers did charge backseat passenger Deontae Poole, 25, with illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon after finding a handgun in her purse.
Poole’s attorney, S.W. Dawson, argued that there was no plausible way that the officers could have smelled pot through the vents of their patrol car. If they had pulled the vehicle over because of the brake light and smelled marijuana, that could have prompted a search, he said.
“If the court finds what happened here to be reasonable, I can’t imagine what it wouldn’t find reasonable,” Dawson said.
But Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Alexandra Vakos argued the opposite. "The smell alone gave them reasonable suspicion,” she said. She added that the car’s occupants could have finished smoking the pot and gotten rid of the evidence.
A jury trial is scheduled for June 5.