Search of Vehicle that Revealed Illegal Drugs Upheld

In State v. Boerboon, a Minnesota Court of Appeals unpublished decision filed August 1, 2011, in a challenge by Defendant to a fifth-degree possession of controlled substance conviction, the Court upheld the conviction and determined that the search of Defendant’s vehicle was constitutional.

Defendant argued that there was no probable cause to search his vehicle, that a search warrant should have been obtained after he left the scene, and that the search was unconstitutional in its scope and duration.
Defendant was stopped by an officer for driving without a front plate. The officer as he was approaching the vehicle observed an odor he believed was raw marijuana and saw a green substance on the center console that resembled marijuana. He also noticed that Defendant was very nervous. The officer had Defendant get out of the car, and asked him if he would consent to a search for illegal drugs in the vehicle. Defendant refused to permit a search.

The officer called in a canine unit to perform a drug sniff, and allowed Defendant to leave the scene but the vehicle needed to remain. The dog from the canine unit arrived shortly and alerted that there were narcotics in the trunk. The car was then searched and marijuana, plastic bags and scales were found in the trunk. A marijuana pipe and a glass container with green residue were found in the center console.

Defendant was charged with felony fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance, and petty misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. Defendant brought a motion to suppress evidence, and the motion was denied. Defendant waived his right to jury trial and the matter was submitted to the court on stipulated facts. The drug paraphernalia charge was dismissed, and Defendant was found guilty of fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance.

Defendant’s first challenge to the conviction is that there was no probable cause to search his vehicle. While warrantless searches are in violation of constitutional protections against illegal searches and seizures, this case involved an automobile. Therefore, the automobile exception to the warrant requirement applies if there is probable cause, and no warrant was necessary to perform a search. (For more on warrants and warrant exceptions, see our blog on “Overview of Search Warrants”). In this case the officer observed an odor and substance he believed to be marijuana in the vehicle. A canine unit also alerted to drugs present in the vehicle. Based on all of the circumstances, the Court determined that there were enough factors for the officer to reasonably believe he would find illegal narcotics in the vehicle, and as such, he had probable cause to perform a search without a warrant.

Defendant also challenged the search alleging that once he left the scene the officers were required to obtain a search warrant. The Court found this argument unpersuasive because of the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. Even if the vehicle’s driver is not present, a search can be conducted if there is probable cause, which the Court already established that there was.

The final issue that Defendant challenged was that the investigatory stop was unconstitutional in its scope and duration. A stop and investigation must be based on reasonable, articulable suspicion. Police may continue an investigation as long as they investigate in a diligent and reasonable manner. Defendant argues that the 45-minute period from the time of the stop to the search was unreasonable. However, the Supreme Court has upheld stops and searches with delays of up to an hour. In this particular case, Defendant was not even detained the entire time. He was given a ride from the scene after about 20-25 minutes. Also, the delay was due to the fact that the canine unit was called in, and at that point, the officer had probable cause to believe there were narcotics present. Therefore, the officer acted reasonably and conducted the investigation with the least amount of delay possible. As such, the Court found the investigatory stop was constitutional.

If you are concerned your rights may have been violated, contact a Minneapolis Criminal Defense Attorney right away.

Categories: Drug Crimes, Felonies