Heavy Traffic to a Residence and Probable Cause

The court of appeals decided a case today concerning a fact pattern that arises frequently in drug cases. State v. McKinney began when an officer received a “citizen complaint” about “heavy traffic in and out of” a particular apartment, with the visitors staying only a short time. The citizen stated that he or she had … 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

Supreme Court: Alert by a Trained or Certified Drug Dog Normally Provides Probable Cause

Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided Florida v. Harris, holding that when a trained and certified drug dog alerts on a vehicle, that normally provides probable cause to search the car, even if there are no records proving that the dog has previously performed well at detecting drugs in the field. I mentioned Harris in my … Read more


State v. Smith: Dog Alerts and Particularized Suspicion

Last August, the court of appeals in State v. Smith, ___ N.C. App. ___, 729 S.E.2d 120, temp. stay granted, __ N.C. __, 731 S.E.2d 179 (mem.) (2012), decided an issue of first-impression related to a drug dog alert and the reasonableness of an ensuing Fourth Amendment search. Since we haven’t yet blogged about Smith, … Read more

Two Thoughts about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman Case

George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida, recently shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old who was walking through Zimmerman’s neighborhood. Martin was returning from a convenience store to the home of his father’s fiancee. The shooting has been in the news so much, and has stirred such strong emotions, that … Read more

Probable Cause: The Same for All Crimes?

Suppose that a magistrate is asked to issue a search warrant for a particular residence. Based on the information presented to her by the applicant, the magistrate believes that there is approximately a 25% chance that a search of the residence will result in the discovery of evidence of the crime under investigation. When deciding … Read more

The Reliability of Drug-Sniffing Dogs

This recent post by Professor Orin Kerr reports on an emerging split of authority on what the state needs to show about the training and experience of a drug-sniffing dog before a dog’s alert will provide probable cause – to search a car, for example, or to support the issuance of a search warrant for … Read more


You Can’t Tell Just from the Smell

I’ve been asked more than once about whether the odor of alcohol combined with a positive reading on a portable breath alcohol screening test device, such as an ALCO-SENSOR, without more, constitutes probable cause to believe that a defendant has committed the offense of impaired driving. My answer?  No.  My reasoning? First, you can’t tell … Read more

Pedophilia and Probable Cause

I’m getting ready to teach a session at the Superior Court Judges’ Conference about searches of computers and other electronic devices, so I’ve been reading all the computer search cases I can get my hands on. Recently, I stumbled on United States v. Crespo-Rios, __ F. Supp. 2d __, 2009 WL 1595463 (D. Puerto Rico … Read more