A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that the mere smell of marijuana in a tractor-trailer did not give a trooper the authority to conduct a warrantless search.
The incident in question occurred in January 2007, when truck driver Ender Pompa was pulled over on Interstate 78 in Warren County, because his truck registration number looked like it had been tampered with. According to the state police trooper, he was overcome by the strong smell of air fresheners as he approached the truck. He found about 20 bottles of air freshener hanging from the cab ceiling. The trooper then proceeded to enter the sleeper compartment, where he found two duffel bags full of 30 pounds of marijuana. However, the trooper had no warrant to search the sleeper compartment.
The truck driver was arrested for drug crimes, found guilty and handed down a sentence of 10 years. A Superior Court judge ruled that the search was justified, because the smell of the weed in the truck permitted the trooper to conduct a warrantless search. However, an appeals court has now reversed that ruling, finding that the inspection should have ended once the trooper entered the sleeper compartment.
A warrantless search can be conducted only if
- The stop is unexpected.
- Police have some evidence of a crime or probable cause of the presence of contraband in the vehicle.
- Circumstances don't allow police to get a warrant to conduct a search.
According to the appeals court judge, the first two provisions were satisfied, but the third was not. The truck was stopped on a busy interstate in the morning, when it should've been easy to get a warrant.
New Jersey criminal defense lawyers believe the appeals court has sent out a fitting message that procedural violations will not be tolerated.
The New Jersey criminal defense attorneys at Helmer, Conley and Kasselman are dedicated to the representation of persons charged with drug crimes, assaults, murder, robbery and other crimes across the state of New Jersey.