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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > October 2012 > State v. Bonham — Fifth District Court of Appeals, Aug. 28, 2012

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State v. Bonham — Fifth District Court of Appeals, Aug. 28, 2012

Question: Does the odor of marijuana and observation of marijuana “shake” inside a car give peace officers probable cause for a warrantless search of the trunk?
Quick Answer: Yes, however, odor emanating from the car alone would not allow officers to search the trunk. 
Facts: Sidney Bonham was stopped for a marked lane violation.  During the stop, the officer detected the smell of marijuana coming from Bonham’s car, and he searched the vehicle. As the officer conducted the vehicle search, he observed marijuana shake — loose particulates of marijuana — on the floorboards, the driver’s armrest, and the driver’s door handle. As he was searching the back seat, he detected a stronger odor of raw marijuana coming from the back seat. The officer opened the trunk of the vehicle and found 15 one-gallon sealed plastic bags containing marijuana.
Why this case is important: The court found that the combination of the odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle, the presence of marijuana shake in the passenger compartment, and the smell of raw marijuana in the back seat gave the officer probable cause to believe the vehicle contained contraband. Therefore, he was entitled to search the entire vehicle.
Keep in mind: If officers smell burned marijuana emanating from a vehicle, they may search the passenger compartment. There is no authority to search the trunk based solely on the smell of burned marijuana coming from inside the vehicle. 
Visit the Fifth District Court of Appeals website  to read the entire opinion.