Minnesota Supreme Court Rules Marijuana Odor By Itself Does Not Justify Vehicle Search

In a landmark decision the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that the smell of marijuana on its own is not probably cause to search a person’s motor vehicle.

The ruling is based on a case brought by Adam Torgerson, who was pulled over in 2021 in Meeker County. Although Torgerson was pulled over for having too many lights on the grill of his vehicle, an officer claimed he smelled marijuana.

After a second officer approached the vehicle and said he also smelt marijuana, police ordered Torgerson, his wife, and his child out of the car and conducted a search of the vehicle, subsequently finding a small amount of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.

Previously a district court ruled that the evidence found during the search of Torgerson’s vehicle is inadmissible in court, because marijuana is legal under certain circumstances and thus the smell alone is not necessarily an indicator of a crime being committed. The State of Minnesota appealed this decision, and lost in a court of appeals. The state then brought the issue to Minnesota Supreme Court, which has now ruled in favor of the lower court’s decision.

Justice Anne McKeig, writing for the majority, pointed out that the court has previously ruled that the smell of alcohol in and of itself is not sufficient to determine probably cause.

“[The] odor of marijuana should be considered along with the totality of any other circumstances to determine whether there is a fair probability that a search will yield contraband or other evidence,” said Judge McKeig.

Outgoing Chief Justice Laurie Gildea authored the dissenting opinion, stating that “because marijuana is contraband in Minnesota, the smell of marijuana coming from inside a car would lead a reasonable and prudent person.. to conclude that there likely will be marijuana in the car.”

You can find the full ruling by clicking here.

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