During a drug investigation after a traffic stop in Jacksonville, Florida, it is not uncommon for a police officer to allege that he/she smells an odor or marijuana which is used as a basis for a search of a person and/or a vehicle. Or, what a Jacksonville police officer may do is briefly detain the suspect for a relatively short period of time while the officer calls for a drug dog. The police drug dog, or K9, has likely been trained to walk around the vehicle or the area where drugs are suspected to be present, detect the odor of marijuana (and/or other drugs like cocaine, heroine, crystal meth, etc.) and give certain signals to the K9 officer when the K9 believes the odor of drugs is present. The K9 officer is also trained to decipher a positive signal from the K9. At that point, the officer will likely proceed with a search of the area, or seek a search warrant, based on the alleged probable cause provided by the drug dog.
A criminal lawyer in a recent drug possession case is asking two police officers who arrested his client if they can detect the smell of marijuana in a car in a random test, according to an article on www.Jacksonville.com. Apparently, the two police officers stopped the defendant, who was driving with a tag light out, and claimed to have smelled an odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle. A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed 10 pounds of marijuana in trash bags in the trunk. The criminal defense lawyer is asking the two police officers to display their ability to smell marijuana by detecting marijuana in a random vehicle in the local courthouse parking lot.
From a criminal procedure standpoint in drug cases, this is a fairly unique request, but this random drug smelling test will likely never happen. The police officers are not required to verify their ability to smell marijuana in this manner. Likewise, drug dogs, who have a much higher sense of smell than humans, are not required to prove their smelling ability in post-arrest random tests of the criminal defense lawyer’s choosing, although they are required to prove their drug odor detection ability in order to become properly trained and certified drug dogs. However, the criminal defense lawyer can and should cross-examine the arresting police officers at trial to determine the officers’ qualifications and abilities in detecting marijuana and also whether there was a Constitutionally sufficient basis to stop the defendant and search his vehicle.