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Can North Carolina Police Search You Due to an “Odor of Marijuana?”

As many North Carolina residents are undoubtedly aware, police are not allowed to pull people over whenever they feel like it. Various constitutional and state laws clearly state that police may only stop motorists if they have a valid reason to suspect criminal activity. What happens if police in the Tar Heel State stop you for seemingly no reason? Can they justify detaining or arresting you simply because they smelled an “odor of marijuana” emanating from your vehicle?


Man Arrested in Rutherford County After Police Smelled Marijuana

Police often cite the odor of marijuana in order to justify the search of vehicles. On October 23, 2023, it was reported that a man in Rutherford County had been arrested by police, who initially detected this scent after a traffic stop. The traffic stop itself was conducted due to an anonymous tip provided by a concerned citizen – and the fact that the driver did not have a valid license. In the end, police searched the vehicle and subsequently located a range of drugs – including not only marijuana but also firearms, mushrooms, heroin, and codeine.

Without the odor of marijuana, police may not have had the legal authority to search this vehicle. How does the public know whether this odor ever actually existed? Scents cannot be documented by a bodycam, and different people have different senses of smell. Many states have passed laws that forbid police officers from searching vehicles based only on the alleged scent of marijuana – although North Carolina is not one of these states.


Odor is Highly Subjective and Potentially Unreliable

Numerous precedents have established that North Carolina police are well within their rights to search vehicles based on the scent of marijuana alone. However, this may still form the basis for an effective defense strategy if defendants can show that these police reports are unreliable. Potential examples include:

  • The officer lost his sense of smell due to a medical issue

  • There was something nearby that mimicked the scent of marijuana, such as a skunk

  • There was another vehicle nearby that was also emanating the scent of marijuana

  • The officers were carrying marijuana – perhaps due to prior confiscation

  • The responding officers gave inconsistent reports about the scent

The Consequences of Throwing Marijuana Out of the Vehicle

Many defendants experience serious consequences after throwing bags of marijuana out of their vehicles. This is almost always an ill-advised move since police are trained to search for these thrown items. In addition, there is no guarantee that your vehicle will be searched if you are stopped by police. Even if a search is conducted, any confiscated marijuana could become a moot point if the search was unconstitutional to begin with.

Where Can I Find a Criminal Defense Attorney in North Carolina?

Regardless of why you were detained or arrested by police, it makes sense to exercise your right to remain silent and consult with a qualified criminal defense attorney in North Carolina as soon as possible. There are many situations in which police pull people over without valid reasons – potentially violating their constitutional rights in the process. Speak with Coastal South Law today to assess your legal options and explore effective defense strategies.

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