Appeals Court (June 25, 2010)
Probable cause exists for a police officer to search the trunk of a vehicle based on an odor of burnt marijuana as long as there are other factors, such as physical evidence of use, that support a connection between the contraband and the vehicle.
The defendant in this case was stopped for a traffic violation. During his interaction with the driver, the officer smelled an odor of burnt marijuana. Based on the smell and the fact that the driver admitted that he and the passengers had been smoking marijuana, the officer searched the occupants and the interior of the car. The officer found two marijuana cigarettes in the ashtray and remnants of marijuana in the car. Based on all of those factors, the officer also searched the trunk of the car, uncovering eight bags of cocaine and ecstasy pills in a soup can.
The defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence arguing that the officer did not have probable cause to search the trunk based on the odor of burnt marijuana which indicates nothing more than use. The lower court judge allowed the motion relying on Commonwealth v. Garden, 451 Mass. 43 (2008) - the smell of burnt marijuana, alone, does not give rise to probable cause to search a trunk. The Commonwealth appealed and the Appellate Court reversed the lower court's decision distinguishing this case from Garden. The Court held that the additional factors - the two marijuana cigarettes and marijuana remnants found in the car, established a connection between contraband and the vehicle, giving the officer probable cause to search the trunk.