A judge claimed that a defense attorney’s motion to suppress evidence was based on “a preposterous position” and allowed the prosecutor to use the evidence seized at trial.
An Illinois judge made that comment during a pretrial hearing in a felony drug possession with intent to deliver case. Officers initially stopped a vehicle for traveling 74mph in a 70mph zone; Frederick W. Rumble, the defendant in this case, was a passenger in that vehicle. After officers smelled cannabis and found one gram of marijuana on Mr. Rumble’s person, they searched the car and found both crack and powder cocaine. The defense claimed that since possession of one gram of cannabis is not technically a crime (it is punishable as a civil penalty only), the officers did not have a legal basis to search the automobile.
The judge ruled that the officers could not have known how much cannabis was in the car based solely on odor and that “the smell of what turned out to be lingering raw cannabis was sufficient to establish probable cause.”
Search Warrant Exceptions in Drug Cases
The defense did not challenge the search based on the lack of a warrant because the officer’s actions fell within the automobile exception, which is one of the six recognized exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.
Since an automobile or other motor vehicle might become unavailable in the time that it takes to procure a warrant, courts allow officers to conduct a limited search if they have probable cause to believe that the defendant was involved in criminal activity. The limited scope means that officers cannot search a van’s glove compartment if they suspect that the vehicle is smuggling undocumented immigrants; there is no definition of “probable cause,” but it is somewhere between an evidence-based hunch and near certainty.
The other five exceptions are:
- Consent: Officers nearly always ask for permission to search suspicious places or vehicles if they lack probable cause. You have the right to say “no” and thus force the officer to obtain a warrant.
- Search Incident to Arrest: Other than consent, this exception is probably the most common one. It is often used after traffic stops, although in Illinois, not all traffic offenses are arrestable.
- Plain View: As the name implies, for officers to seize contraband without warrants, they must be able to see the items. One example is a handgun on a car seat, even if it is partially concealed.
- Weapons Pat-Down: If an officer has reasonable suspicion that the defendant is carrying a weapon, like a gun or knife, the officer may pat the suspect down.
- Hot Pursuit: In the original Dirty Harry, a rifle that Harry seized from a suspect during a foot chase was later ruled inadmissible. Today, the rifle would probably be admitted under the hot pursuit exception.
The prosecutor has the burden of proof to show that an exception applied and that all the elements for that exception are present in that case.
Reach Out to Experienced Attorneys
Officers can seize evidence without warrants only in limited circumstances. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal law attorney in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.
(image courtesy of Shahzin Shajid)