Although they have the right to seize it, police need a warrant to open a package emitting the strong odor of cannabis, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled late last month.
The case, filed by the Santa Barbara District Attorney, argued that officers had a right to justify opening a FedEx package containing 444 grams of marijuana due to the “plain smell” of contraband. While police officers are typically allowed to seize evidence in “plain sight” Robey v. Superior Court sought to determine whether the, “plain smell of marijuana was, by itself, sufficient to justify the warrantless search.”
The case involved a FedEx worker in Santa Maria, Calif. who called authorities in July 2010 to report that a package smelling of marijuana had been dropped off for shipment to an Illinois address. When Officer Nathan Totorica arrived, he seized the unopened and sealed box as evidence and later opened the package at the police station without a warrant for either the seizure or subsequent search of the container, the case report states. Kewhan Robey was later arrested when he went back to the FedEx location to inquire about the undelivered package.
“In this case, there was no dispute as to whether the police lawfully seized the package without a warrant, “ the report states. “Because there was no justification for an immediate search of the package once it was seized, the police had no derivative authority to search the package later at the police station without a warrant.”