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What was really on trial: a police officer’s alleged smelling powers

On Behalf of | Jul 29, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

Police arrest reports frequently chronicle the events leading up to close-and-personal interaction with an individual alleged to have engaged in criminal misconduct.

And that is understandable. The American justice system frowns upon – in fact, bars pursuant to a host of federal and state laws – criminal charges and sought convictions not based on officers’ reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.

In fact, and in most instances involving detention and a coupled search and seizure outcome, so-called “probable cause” to engage with an individual is a threshold hurdle police must clear. Absent it, cases involving the seizure of incriminating evidence are routinely thrown out by courts.

Judicial reliance on probable cause proofs rests on time-honored and bedrock legal doctrine, namely the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

The bottom line: Law enforcers need to articulate a valid reason for interacting with an individual in the first place, prior to any search-and-seizure-linked conduct.

Instructive case: court finds cop’s claim “incredible”

Case nutshell: A criminal matter recently receiving widespread media attention involved a vehicle stop ultimately yielding a handgun possessed by a convicted felon and three ounces of sealed marijuana in that individual’s car.

The police officer’s stated justification for stopping the car: He could smell the raw and sealed pot, even though he was in his police cruiser. And even though he was tailing the suspect’s moving car in traffic.

A federal court asked to assess that sheer olfactory power was flatly disinclined to believe the officer’s assertion. The judge evaluating the claim termed it “incredible.” The court’s ruling stated that, “This occurrence is not only contrary to any common experiences, but is implausible and seemingly contrary to the laws of nature.”

The court’s rejection of the officer’s claim yielded a predictable result. The judge suppressed all evidence seized in the case, leaving prosecutors no choice but to drop all charges in the matter.

Why proven defense attorneys look closely at probable cause

Federal and state law enforcers command plenary resources – both manpower and funding – in their investigatory activities. It is imperative to ensure fundamental fairness in the justice system that they not abuse their already formidable powers by skirting probable cause curbs on illegitimate police behavior.

Experienced and aggressive criminal defense seek to ensure that they don’t.