Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Colorado Court Just Ruled That Even If Car Smells Like Weed Cops Don't Have Probable Cause to Search It

The unexpected fallout from Colorado’s decision to legalize pot continues to grow.
A Colorado state appeals court has ruled that even if a cop smells pot in your car, that alone is not probable cause to conduct a search. The decision also affects whether sniffs by drug dogs, which look for a variety of contraband, including pot, constitutes a search.
The Daily Sentinel reports that a three judge state appeals court panel ruled that because pot is legal in certain amounts in Colorado, simply smelling it is not enough to arrest someone or do a search. Joined by Judges Michael Berger and Jerry Jones, Judge Daniel Dailey wrote in the ruling:
"Because Amendment 64 legalized possession for personal use of one ounce or less of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older in Colorado, it is no longer accurate to say, at least as a matter of state law, that an alert by a dog which can detect marijuana — but not specific amounts — can reveal only the presence of ‘contraband.’”
The case stems from a 2015 stop by a man who had just come from a house where known drug activity had taken place months before. Kevin McKnight was pulled over for failing to signal a right turn. The officer’s K-9, Kilo, got a ‘hit' on the car. An officer searched it and found a meth pipe. McKnight was arrested and charged. At trial, his attorney asked for the search to be tossed out.
The decision, issued Friday, was a clear win for McKnight. The judges reversed his conviction, ruled that the search was illegal because no probable cause was properly established and set a precedent in the way drug sniffing dogs are used in pot busts:
A dog sniff could result in an alert with respect to something for which, under Colorado law, a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy. Because a dog sniff of a vehicle could infringe upon a legitimate expectation of privacy solely under state law, that dog sniff should now be considered a ‘search’ for purposes of (the amendment) where the occupants are 21 years or older.
The decision said that since the dog can’t say which drug he’s smelling, the whole search is tossed out.
Because Colorado’s new law allows people to possess limited amounts of weed, if the drug dog is trained to smell weed, it no longer is a legitimate ‘hit’ on the car — because it might be legally owned marijuana.
Colorado’s pot legalization has led to a bunch of unintended consequences. A student survey following the 2012 legalization found that there was less concern about the drug and surprisingly less use. However, there was an influx of homeless young people who converged upon the state in what some call “pot tourism,” and as they came in welfare expenditures went sky high.