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Chicago Police Say Odor of Marijuana Justified Search, Judge Not So Sure

Learn more about a criminal defendant who recently called a "smell expert" to court to challenge the evidence police had collected against him.

2012-10-20
October 20, 2012 (Press-News.org) The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures is one of the most important constitutional protections afforded to the American public. Among other things, this right means that police may not search your vehicle unless they have an objective and compelling reason to suspect that a crime has been committed. When police conduct a search that violates your right to be free from unreasonable searches, any evidence that is uncovered as a result cannot be used against you in court.

All too often, police take note of strong odors of marijuana or some other drug when trying to justify a search that turned up incriminating evidence. It's very convenient -- after all, how can you question what another person smelled? But, in one recent case out of Chicago, a criminal defendant did just that, using scientific evidence to get a search based on smell invalidated.

'Smell Expert' Brought In To Cast Doubt on Suspect Odor Evidence

When Chicago police pulled over Jonathan Stoffels, one of the arresting officers had a suspicion about the contents of his Lincoln Navigator. A search of Stoffels' vehicle revealed 10 grams of marijuana inside a mason jar, $8,600 in cash, drug recipes and a drug ledger. Ultimately, the only thing the Chicago police were able to use in court as justification for the search was the "overwhelming odor" of marijuana that one of the officers claimed to detect emitting from the car.

But was it really possible that the smell of marijuana was strong enough to be detected? After all, the only cannabis in the vehicle was in a sealed jar, and according to the testimony of federal agents, it had been at least an hour since Stoffels had been in a marijuana "grow house."

Stoffels' criminal defense attorney brought in Richard Doty, a smell expert, to challenge the validity of the search. According to Doty, the marijuana plants in the grow house were young, and immature marijuana plants do not carry the distinctive "pot" smell many officers come to recognize. Therefore, Doty testified that it was scientifically unlikely that anyone could have smelled the odor of marijuana clinging to Stoffels' clothing during the traffic stop.

The judge in Stoffels' case was convinced that it was farfetched that an overwhelming odor of marijuana was present in the car. Thus, Chicago police did not have a valid reason to conduct the search, and the judge ruled that all evidence obtained from the Lincoln Navigator had to be suppressed.

Charged With a Drug Crime? Contact a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney

As it was in Stoffels' case, smell evidence is used in many drug cases to justify a search. Yet, few criminal defendants put officers' sense of smell to the test.

"Usually there is never anybody who challenges it, and when it is not challenged, the judges just take it at face value," James Woodford, an odor chemist, told the Chicago Tribune. "When the police say, 'I smell marijuana,' if the defense doesn't say anything or bring in an expert, it becomes a fact."

Don't let a phantom smell or some other piece of questionable evidence become your downfall. If you have been charged with a drug crime, get in touch with an aggressive Chicago criminal defense attorney and actively challenge any evidence that may have been collected in violation of your rights.

Article provided by Law Office of Robert Kerr, LLC
Visit us at www.chicagolawoffice.net


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[Press-News.org] Chicago Police Say Odor of Marijuana Justified Search, Judge Not So Sure
Learn more about a criminal defendant who recently called a "smell expert" to court to challenge the evidence police had collected against him.