Odor Of Marijuana Justifies Detaining And Searching A Student Case

Mr.  Carpenter, a deputy sheriff, was assigned as a school resource officer (SRO) at a high school.  When a student named SW walked past him in the hall, Carpenter smelled a strong odor of marijuana on the student.  He took SW to  the weight room and also requested two assistant principles to be present.  He then asked SW if he had anything on him, to which SW replied no.  Carpenter then requested the student empty his pockets.  SW did so and produced a plastic bag containing 10 smaller bags of marijuana.  SW was charged in Juvenile Court with possession of drugs t and found delinquent. opd85f_2.thm

In affirming SW’s conviction, the court specifically ruled that the odor of marijuana provided Carpenter with “reasonable suspicion” to justify detaining, questioning and searching SW.  Carpenter was working in conjunction with school officials, and did not need SW’s consent to search him.  The search was reasonably related to the purpose of the detention and it was not intrusive.  After detaining SW, the search was reasonable in scope because it was limited to a pat down search and to having SW empty the contents of his pockets.  SW’s pockets were obviously places he might conceal marijuana, so the scope of the search was limited and legally reasonable.

SW said his consent to the search was not freely given, but court disagreed.  The court said the search could have been lawfully performed without SW’s consent.  Based on the strong odor of marijuana Carpenter smelled, he had a valid reason to detain, question and search SW.  This is true because Carpenter’s action was in furtherance of the school’s objective to maintain a drug free environment.  Carpenter involved two school officials in the investigation, so he was not acting solely as a law enforcement officer, plus he had two adults who witnessed the questioning and search.  Take Away Tip:  If a school detains a student who smells like marijuana, it’s a good idea (like in this case) to have at least two school officials present.  The reason is so two school officials can corroborate the fact the student had an odor of marijuana on his/her person at the time of the detention, questioning and search.


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