As a general rule, under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, citizens are protected from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” In order to conduct a search, a law enforcement officer is required to obtain a court-issued warrant. As with most legal provisions, courts have interpreted the Fourth Amendment in many cases throughout our country’s history. In one such case, the U.S. Supreme Court carved out an exception to the warrant requirement known as the “automobile exception” or “Carroll doctrine,” which has been applied to criminal cases brought in Maryland courts. It is important for anyone who has been arrested or charged with a crime to make sure that the State did not violate protected constitutional rights in the process of obtaining evidence. An experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney would be able to assess your case to determine which defenses you may be entitled to assert.
Under the automobile exception, an officer may search a vehicle without a warrant if he or she has probable cause to believe it contains evidence of a crime or contraband goods. In a recent Maryland drug case, an officer initiated a traffic stop of Joshua Paul Bowling, who allegedly made two illegal left turns. The officer knew Bowling from an earlier drug case and believed he was behaving in a suspicious manner. The officer called a K-9 unit, which arrived with a “drug dog” who exhibited behavioral signals alerting the officers that he detected the presence of one of the five drugs that he was trained to detect.
The officer searched the car and found 198.2 grams of marijuana, cash, a smoking device, and other items. Bowling moved to suppress the evidence found in his car, arguing (among other things) that the officer lacked the authority to conduct a warrantless search of his vehicle. Bowling relied on the fact that the Maryland legislature passed a new law in 2014, which decriminalized possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana. Here, Bowling pointed out that the drug dog did not have the ability to distinguish between the quantities of marijuana that constituted a criminal offense versus a civil offense. Because of this reasoning, he claimed that the warrantless search of the vehicle violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
The court denied the motion to suppress. Bowling appealed. The issue in this case was whether the police had probable cause to search the car under the Carroll doctrine. According to the court, the question became whether there was a “fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime [would] be found in” the car. Maryland courts have consistently held that the detection of marijuana by a trained drug dog establishes probable cause to conduct a search under the Carroll doctrine. Here, the Maryland court looked at whether the new law, decriminalizing possession of limited amounts of marijuana, changed the interpretation of the Carroll doctrine.
Since this was an issue of first impression in Maryland, the court looked to other jurisdictions for guidance. The court concluded that since marijuana is still considered contraband, no matter the quantity, the new legislation does not change the established precedent that a drug dog’s alert to the scent of marijuana provides the police with probable cause to search a vehicle under the Carroll doctrine. The court denied the motion to suppress.
This case nicely illustrates the complicated nature of criminal cases and the importance of understanding how you may be entitled to any number of defenses. Anthony A. Fatemi has extensive experience handling criminal defense cases in Maryland. Our office can work diligently to develop a strong strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
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