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People v. Hill, No. 124595 (March 19, 2020).

On March 19, 2020, the Supreme Court of Illinois held that there was probable cause for a police officer to search a defendant’s vehicle. In the case, the police officer pulled over the defendant because he believed that the passenger in the vehicle was a known fugitive in the area. Upon approaching the vehicle, the police officer smelled raw cannabis right away. The officer also saw a small bud of cannabis in the back seat of the vehicle. After another squad car arrived, the officer asked the defendant to step out of the vehicle, and he began a search of the car. As a result, the officer found cocaine in the car. The defendant was charged with unlawful possession of a substance containing less than 15 grams of cocaine, but the defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence of the cocaine in trial court, claiming that the officer did not have probable cause to search the vehicle.

The trial court granted the motion in part, but the appellate court reversed, finding the officer to have reasonable suspicion and adequate probable cause to search the vehicle. The Supreme Court of Illinois then affirmed the appellate court’s decision. In order to establish probable cause, the Court noted that the totality of the facts and circumstances must justify that a reasonable person would believe the vehicle contained contraband or evidence of criminal activity. In this case, the totality of facts and circumstances included the fact that the police officer smelled and saw cannabis in the vehicle and the fact that the defendant had delay in pulling over on the side of the road after the officer turned on his lights. It was determined that the defendant had multiple opportunities to safely pull over before he finally decided to. After weighing these factors, the Court concluded that the totality of the facts and circumstances would in fact lead a reasonable person to believe the vehicle contained contraband or evidence of criminal activity.

However, since the events in this case took place in 2017, this opinion may have little precedential value. First, cannabis law in Illinois has changed drastically since 2017, as cannabis is now legal for recreational purposes in the state. Secondly, this case contained other factors that led to the holding of the Court, such as the significant delay in the defendant pulling over after the police officer turned on his lights. Therefore, the holding of the case appears to be fact specific. With these two factors in mind, the opinion simply may have diminutive value moving forward. This leaves the question up in the air as to whether or not smelling and seeing cannabis in a vehicle is enough to establish probable cause for a police officer to search your vehicle after the newly adopted marijuana laws in Illinois have been implemented.

The law offices of McCarthy, Callas, & Feeney handle cases of criminal law. If you feel that you need a lawyer, please contact us at McCarthy, Callas & Feeney so we can discuss your legal options moving forward. Call (309)-788-2800 to connect with a lawyer. Our firm practices extensively in Moline and Rock Island, Illinois, as well as Bettendorf and Davenport, Iowa.

Article written by Legal Intern Joseph Weigel


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