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Cop's Search Justified by Car's Odors Court Says

Cop's Search Justified by Car's Odors Court Says

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Associated Press

January 10, 2010

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The strong whiff of air fresheners and other odor-masking agents was enough reason for a highway officer to suspect a pulled-over driver might be a drug trafficker, according to the Utah Court of Appeals.

Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Jason Jensen pulled over Heather Richards in 2007 for crossing the fog line and following another vehicle too closely.

He noticed a “bizarrely strong” odor coming from the car and saw orange rinds on the floor, containers of Lysol and Armor All and two cell phones.

Richards told Jensen she was driving to Minnesota to pick up her young son, who did not like flying, according to court records.

Jensen refused the trooper’s request to search the car, saying there was no justification for it. A few minutes later, a drug-sniffing dog indicated the trunk where officers found 60 pounds of marijuana.

Richards was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of a controlled substance and two traffic offenses. She later entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving the right to challenge evidence that was revealed by the dog’s sniff.

The appeals court denied that challenge in its Dec. 31 ruling.

The court noted the trooper had been trained to look for suspicious signs that might indicate drug activity, including odor-masking agents and multiple cell phones.

In light of his training, Jensen likely would have been in derelict of his duties if he had let Richards drive away without pursuing his suspicions, the court said. Extending the traffic stop long enough to check out the car was reasonable, the court said.

“While any given driver may love the fragrance of citrus fruit for its own sake and strive to keep the interior of her car germ free and shiny, and while there may be other odors besides the distinctive aroma of marijuana that a driver might legitimately intend to mask through the presence of air fresheners and other odor masking agents, an officer is not required to rule out all innocent explanations,” the court said.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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