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Alaska v. Crocker

    Brief Fact Summary.

    An officer obtained a search warrant to search Defendant’s home. Defendant possessed marijuana inside his house. The superior court suppressed all evidence of marijuana on the grounds that the warrant was invalid.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    To execute a valid search warrant, the judicial officer must possess probable cause that a crime is being committed or that evidence of a crime will be found in the location specified in the warrant.

    Facts.

    Leo Richardson Crocker Jr., Defendant, was found with marijuana plants, harvested marijuana, and marijuana-growing equipment when the police entered his home to execute a search warrant. The warrant application alleged that the officer smelled a “strong odor†of marijuana growing inside the house as they stood on the front door. The officer believed that the strong odor of marijuana correlated with the amount of marijuana that would be found inside. Thus, the officer assumed, because it was a strong smell of marijuana, a large amount of marijuana would be found inside. Likewise, the officer looked into the amount of electricity the residence used and, according to the Homer Electric Association, the residence was using more electricity than average, based on the size of the residence. The superior court concluded that the warrant was invalid and the evidence should be suppressed.

    Issue.

    What is the Prosecution required to improve to obtain a warrant to enter and search of a defendant’s residence for evidence of marijuana?

    Held.

    A judicial officer issue a warrant to search an individual’s home for marijuana possession when probable cause to believe the individual possess marijuana in the amount that exceeds the scope of the constitutionally protected possession of marijuana.

    Discussion.

    The Alaska’s Constitution protects an individual’s right to possess a limited amount of marijuana for their personal use in his or her home. The Prosecution contends that, under Ravin, the court established an affirmative defense for personal use of marijuana. Thus, individual’s charged with possession of marijuana can raise the defense if they are charged with possession. Further, because the defense is available to individuals charged with the crime, the judge solely needs probable cause that any amount of marijuana will be found in the individual’s home. The court disagrees with the Prosecution’s argument because to obtain a valid warrant the Prosecution must prove that the evidence sought is related to a crime, and if the amount of marijuana in the home is not considered a crime under the laws of Alaska, the warrant is not valid. The court rejects the officer’s correlation that a strong odor of marijuana certainly concludes that there is a large amount of marijuana inside the house. Also, the court rejects the Homer Electronic Association’s conclusion about the average use of electricity for the Defendant’s house because the Association did not did not explain its training or experience that would allow it to make an informed opinion about the residence’s electricity and the magistrate judge did not have the ability to know whether Defendant’s house was smaller or larger than average. Therefore, the superior court’s holding should be affirmed.



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