Vermont to prohibit smell-based vehicle searches

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Cops can no longer use “smell” to conduct a search

The nose is no longer a tool available to law enforcement officials on Vermont in certain circumstances. The state’s Supreme Court has passed down a ruling that prohibits searches of vehicles based on a perceived smell of marijuana, which is legal in small quantities in the state, unless there are other mitigating factors.

The court decided that, in the absence of any additional driver impairment, officers could not search and/or seize vehicles. The Supreme Court was listening to a case brought forward by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which referenced a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court case that had determined that homes, not vehicles, were allowed to be searched based on odors.

In issuing its ruling, which reversed a lower court’s decision, the court stated, “The seizure, aimed at immobilizing the plaintiff’s vehicle while the officer sought a search warrant, was essentially based solely on the trooper’s initial detection of the faint odor of burnt marijuana, which did not, in and of itself, create fair probability that marijuana would be found in the vehicle.”

There has been a substantial amount of controversy surrounding odor-based searches. Some have argued that drug-sniffing dogs are trained to respond to the action of receiving a reward for finding a substance such as marijuana. They say that the dogs will react as if they had found something to receive the reward, even if no drugs are actually present. That reaction has reportedly led to numerous false seizures.

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