Can the Police Search My Car if They Smell Marijuana?

Imagine you’re pulled over for a traffic offense like speeding, or expired registration. When the officer approaches your window he asks the typical question like “do you know why I pulled you over,” or requests that you provide license and insurance. Next, the officer tells you that they smell marijuana. You’re confused, you haven’t been smoking marijuana, and never have even smoked in your car. The officer now wants to search you and your car. What should you do? Cases like State v. Greenwood, tell us that the odor of marijuana amounts to probable cause to search a vehicle. It seems that officers are using this excuse to search cars more and more. But, there are limits to who can be searched. Probable cause to search the occupants of a car must be individualized. If the odor of marijuana is clearly coming from just one occupant, only that person may be searched. In the recent 2016 case, State v. Pigford, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held further that if there are passengers in the car, and the odor cannot be localized to just one person, no occupants should be searched.

What about my purse? If they cannot search me, can they search my purse?

It depends where your purse is located in the car. If it is in the trunk, they cannot search your purse without specific probable cause to search the trunk. Even if your purse is in the passenger compartment, you may be able to argue that a search of your purse was not valid, because you did not consent to that search. If the officer claims that they smell raw marijuana, it would be unreasonable for them to search a tiny compartment within your purse where no sample of marijuana large enough could be contained to emanate an odor. This also applies to the smell of burned marijuana. Officers can only search places that could contain what they are looking for. If your purse or wallet are too small to contain the weed or too distant from where they claim to smell marijuana, you may have an argument to prove that the search was unconstitutional.

If you were stopped for a traffic offense, and then charged with possession of marijuana or possession of drug paraphernalia call The Law Offices of Wiley Nickel, PLLC for a free consultation. Attorney Kristi Haddock and Attorney Wiley Nickel are available by phone at 919-585- 1486. Our office is located in Cary near the intersection of Harrison Avenue and I-40.



Wiley Nickel

Wiley Nickel lives and works in Cary, North Carolina. In 1998, he graduated from Tulane University with a major in Political Science and a minor in History. After college Wiley went to work for Al Gore and travelled with the Vice President as part of his national advance staff. Following the Gore campaign he earned his law degree from the Pepperdine University School of Law in 2005. While in law school Wiley worked as a law clerk in the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office where he gained valuable criminal trial experience before taking and passing the California bar exam. His first job out of law school was for the Merced County District Attorney’s Office where he worked as a Deputy District Attorney with a focus on prosecuting DWI offenders. Wiley later joined the Law Offices of Joseph Uremovic where he focused on civil litigation and family law. When the opportunity came to join the Obama campaign in 2008 Wiley jumped at the chance. He spent three years travelling with President Obama as a member of his national advance team. In 2011 Wiley left his work for the White House to return to the practice of law. Wiley devotes the majority of his practice to the areas of criminal law, family law, traffic tickets and DMV issues. The Law Offices of Wiley Nickel was started with the goal of providing the best representation possible for all of his clients. Experienced, Compassionate, Aggressive Criminal Defense While defense attorney Wiley Nickel works as the primary attorney for all of his cases, he does have an associate attorney, a team of investigators, forensic consultants, and support staff to call on to help achieve the best possible result in every case. He limits his case load so that he can focus on providing the best possible legal defense to all of his clients. Every case is a top priority and the goal is to have your case dismissed with a focus on being able to expunge your charges at the end of the process. When he is not working, Wiley is an avid family man, distance runner and golfer. He loves North Carolina college sports and is hoping this is the year for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Wiley is licensed to practice law in North Carolina and California.