The highest court in Massachusetts ruled Tuesday that a police officer is not justified in stopping and searching an automobile merely because he smells the presence of marijuana. The Supreme Judicial Court took up the case of Benjamin Cruz to clarify the legal impact of a 2008 voter referendum that had decriminalized possession of less than one ounce of pot in the Bay State.
On June 24, 2009, Boston Police Officers Christopher Morgan and Richard Diaz were cruising the Hyde Square neighborhood in an unmarked Ford Crown Victoria in plain clothes. At around 5pm, the officers spotted Cruz in the passenger seat of a car parked on the side of the road in front of a fire hydrant. Cruz was smoking a small cigar with the windows rolled down. The officers got out of their car, approached Cruz and asked what he was doing. Officer Morgan claimed he smelled a “faint odor” of marijuana and Officer Diaz noted that Cruz appeared to be nervous. Cruz was ordered out of the car and searched. Police found 4 grams of crack cocaine and arrested Cruz.
A lower court judge ruled that the officers had no reasonable basis to order Cruz out of the car because there was no evidence that any crime had been committed. The supreme court majority agreed.
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