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Oregon v. Smalley

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant, the passenger, and the driver of a pickup truck were stopped by a police officer. The driver consented to a search of the vehicle. The officer smelled marijuana emanating from a backpack that belonged to Defendant. Defendant admitted the backpack belonged to him. Defendant was arrested and moved to suppress marijuana evidence because the officer did not obtain a warrant. The trial court granted Defendant’s motion, and the State appealed the trial court’s order.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    When an officer has probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime or contraband is found in a vehicle, the officer my search the entire vehicle without a search warrant.

    Facts.

    Officer Jewell stopped a pickup truck for a traffic violation. Defendant was a passenger in the pickup truck. The driver consented to the officer’s search of the vehicle. When the officer opened the driver side door, he noticed a strong odor of marijuana. The officer moved the seat forward, causing the odor to get stronger. At that moment, the officer realized there was a backpack behind the seat. The closer he got to the backpack, the stronger the odor was, and the officer testified, “it was ‘obvious’†to him that the bag was holding a “large amount of marijuana.†The officer opened the bag and found sixty-two ounces of marijuana. Defendant admitted to owning the backpack. Defendant was charged with unlawful manufacture of marijuana and unlawful possession of marijuana. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence on the grounds that it was obtained without a warrant. The trial court granted the motion and suppressed the evidence. The State appealed the trial court’s order.

    Issue.

    Whether the trial court erred in suppressing the evidence found in the Defendant’s backpack.

    Held.

    Yes, the trial court erred in suppressing the evidence found in the Defendant’s backpack because the officer had probable cause to search the backpack under the automobile exception.

    Discussion.

    The court recognized that warrantless searches are per se unreasonable, as Defendant properly asserts. However, under the automobile exception, when an officer has probable cause to believe that a lawfully stopped vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime, the officer is justified in executing search of the entire vehicle, absent a search warrant. Oregon v. Brown 721 P. 2d 1357 (Or. 1986). Therefore, because marijuana is a form of contraband, the officer had probable cause to continue to conduct the warrantless search of his backpack, and the marijuana should not have been suppressed.



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