Today the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the odor of marijuana in a motor vehicle by itself, does not allow police to search the vehicle. In State v. Torgeson,Mr. Torgeson was stopped by the police for having improper lighting on his vehicle. When the police spoke with Mr. Torgeson they detected the odor of burnt marijuana. Mr. Torgeson and his passenger denied that there was any marijuana in the vehicle but the police nonetheless searched the vehicle and found controlled substances. Mr. Torgeson challenged the search and the District Court threw out the evidence deciding it was obtained through an illegal search.
The State appealed the ruling to the Minnesota Court of Appeals which upheld the District Court order. The State then appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court asking the Supreme Court to rule that the order of marijuana alone can justify a search of the vehicle. The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected the state’s argument and instead ruled that because at the time that Mr. Torgeson was arrested, there were three “non-criminal” exceptions to possession of marijuana—Possession of hemp; possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana; and Medical Marijuana. The court ruled that because there were these exceptions to possession of marijuana and there was no evidence that the possession was non-criminal, the police did not have a basis to search the vehicle.
Interesting to note is that the court did not address the issue of what the law on searching a vehicle (based solely on the odor marijuana) would be under Minnesota’s new marijuana laws. Because the new law has more reasons to legally possess marijuana, arguably there are fewer situations where the police could show that there was illegal possession based solely on the odor of marijuana.
The court noted that if there are other factors present that would lead to a belief there is something illegal going on (the driver appeared impaired, there was driving conduct, etc.), the odor of marijuana combined with these are the factors could lead to a lawful search.
To read more about this decision check here.
To learn more about drug related crimes check here.
If you or someone you know have been charged with a crime after a search of your vehicle, give us a call for a free case evaluation at 763-421-6366.