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Drugs Found in Driver’s Pants Pocket During Traffic Stop Thrown Out Due to Illegal Search

pants pocket illegal search traffic stop

One recent Ohio case highlights the importance of cruiser video evidence in traffic-related stops.  In this case, a car was pulled over for crossing the fog line.  Once pulled over, the officer said he smelled marijuana coming from the car.  He asked the driver to step out and then testified that he smelled marijuana coming from the driver’s person.  He searched the driver – including his pockets – and found 1.066 Oxycodone pills in a baggie in the driver’s pants pocket.

At the motion to suppress, the court found that the search of the driver’s pants pockets was illegal.  The officer’s testimony that he smelled marijuana coming from the driver was not credible based on the court’s review of the cruiser video evidence and the fact that no marijuana was found in the car or on the driver’s person.  The video evidence also showed strong winds at the time of the stop.

As a result, the drug charges were dismissed. 

Officer Searches Driver and Finds Oxycodone in Driver’s Pocket

Around 11: 45 am, two officers were on patrol positioned on a median crossover on the highway.   Each officer noticed that the defendant’s vehicle was traveling too closely to the vehicle in front of it.   One officer pulled his patrol cruiser out of the crossover and followed the defendant’s vehicle.

The officers then observed the defendant’s vehicle cross the white fog line twice.  One of the officers turned on his patrol lights and pulled the car over.

Once stopped, both officers approached the vehicle—one from the driver side and one from the passenger side.  Both officers independently detected a “very strong” odor of raw marijuana emanating from the passenger compartment of the vehicle.  One officer asked the driver to exit the vehicle so that he could search the car.

When the driver stepped out, the officer reported twice  detecting a “strong” odor of raw marijuana emanating from the driver while he was out of the car.  Based on this, the officer determined he had probable cause to search the driver’s person.

During the search, he discovered in the driver’s coat pocket a plastic sandwich size bag containing pills suspected to be Oxycodone (which was later determined to be 1,066 pills). He arrested the driver (the defendant) and put him in the cruiser.   A search of the vehicle did not uncover any illicit drugs or any amount of marijuana.

He was indicted on one count of Aggravated Possession of Drugs.

Drug Charges Dismissed Because Officer’s Testimony That He Smelled Raw Marijuana Wasn’t Credible

The defendant’s attorney filed a motion to suppress, arguing the search was illegal.  

The cruiser video and the officer’s testimony at the hearing revealed that the search of the driver’s person (including his pockets) was based solely on one officer’s belief that he smelled raw marijuana coming from the driver while outside of the vehicle.

The officer testified that he is well trained in the detecting the odor of marijuana and smells it every day in his position in special operations and as a trained drug interdiction assistance program instructor.   He further noted that even though no marijuana was found either on the driver or in his vehicle, a “strong” odor of raw marijuana continued to emanate from the driver and the bag of pills at the patrol post.

The trial court court thoroughly analyzed the officer’s testimony and the cruiser video, including the strong winds blowing during the officer’s brief encounter with the driver.  After reviewing, the judge determined that the officer was not credible when he said that he smelled marijuana.  

Thus, because the court did not find the officer’s testimony credible, it found that there was no probable cause to search the driver’s person.  As a result, the search was illegal and anything coming from the search (including the pills) were inadmissible. 

As a result, the drug charges were dismissed. 

State v. Shuttlesworth, 2014-Ohio-5206