No Probable Cause to Search Vehicle Occupant Based Solely on Generalized Odor of Marijuana Emanating From Vehicle

The existence of probable cause to search a vehicle and probable cause to search a vehicle occupant based on an odor of marijuana emanating from a vehicle present separate legal issues. The North Carolina Court of Appeals on August 2, 2016, ruled in State v. Pigford that although an officer had probable cause to search a vehicle, he did not have probable cause to search a vehicle occupant based on the marijuana odor. However, another theory mentioned by the court may ultimately support the admission of the illegally-seized evidence at the retrial of the case.

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Must Officers Now Arrest, Rather Than Cite, for Misdemeanor Marijuana Possession?

This session, the General Assembly made some changes to the statute governing the fingerprinting of criminal defendants. Inside and outside the School of Government, people are divided about whether the statute now requires officers to arrest, rather than cite, individuals for misdemeanor marijuana possession offenses.

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Prior Possession of Drug Paraphernalia

It’s December 1. That means a number of new laws come into effect today. WRAL has a good rundown here, while the School’s annual summary of legislation of interest to court officials offers a more comprehensive review. For today’s post I’d like to focus on a sentencing question related to one of the changes that kicks in today: the reduced punishment for possession of marijuana paraphernalia.

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Driving While Stoned

The New York Times reported earlier this week that driving under the influence of marijuana is significantly less risky than driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08.  That’s a good thing, since the Times also reported that impairment from marijuana is difficult to detect using the current battery of standardized field sobriety tests and difficult … Read more

When an Arrestee “Brings” Drugs to the Jail

When a person is arrested while in possession of drugs and is taken to the jail in handcuffs, may the person properly be convicted of possessing drugs in a confinement facility? The question has divided courts across the country. Last week, a majority of the court of appeals concluded that the answer is yes. State … Read more

Searching a Person Based on the Smell of Marijuana

The question. Many cases hold that the smell of marijuana provides probable cause to search a vehicle. See, e.g., State v. Greenwood, 301 N.C. 705, 708 (1981); State v. Smith, 192 N.C. App. 690 (2008) (“When an officer detects the odor of marijuana emanating from a vehicle, probable cause exists for a warrantless search of … Read more

Making Marijuana the Lowest Law Enforcement Priority

Last week, a legislative committee at the General Assembly rejected a bill that would have permitted medicinal use of marijuana. The News and Observer covered the story here, and the bill itself is here. There doesn’t appear to be any chance that the legislature will follow Colorado and Washington and make recreational marijuana legal under … Read more


Delivery of a Controlled Substance and the “Pot Exception”

G.S. 90-95(a)(1) makes it a crime to knowingly sell or deliver a controlled substance to another person. As a general rule, the delivery of marijuana—a Schedule VI controlled substance—is a Class I felony. G.S. 90-95(b)(2). However, the statute provides that it is not a delivery to transfer for no remuneration less than 5 grams of … Read more

Thoughts about Ward

As I mentioned in a recent news roundup, earlier this month the Supreme Court of North Carolina decided State v. Ward. The basic holding of the case is that the visual identification of controlled substances is not reliable enough to be admitted in criminal trials, and that a chemical analysis of such substances is normally … Read more

“Cigar Guts”

Earlier this week, the court of appeals decided State v. Simmons, a search and seizure case that should interest officers, lawyers, and judges. The facts are simple: an officer stopped a driver for not wearing his seat belt. It turned out the the driver’s license was revoked, so the officer cited the driver for that, … Read more