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Smell of marijuana gave probable cause for search

An officer had probable cause to conduct a full search of a defendant during a traffic stop where the defendant, and the vehicle he was in, smelled of marijuana, a police alert indicated that the defendant could be armed, and the defendant made furtive movements and admitted to smoking marijuana earlier in the day.


Officer Duane, of the Richmond Police Department Gang Unit, initiated a traffic stop of a car that made a turn without using a turn signal. Richard Hendrick was the front passenger of the car, and another male was the driver. When Duane noticed the smell of burnt marijuana emanating from the vehicle, he asked the two men to step out of the car and patted them down.

When he began patting Hendrick down, Hendrick made furtive movements, including dropping his hands down despite Duane’s orders and repeatedly shifting his weight from his left to right foot. Concerned that these furtive movements might be a precursor to Hendrick initiating a fight or fleeing the scene, Duane handcuffed him. Duane and his partner then searched the vehicle but did not find anything of note. Hendrick admitted to using marijuana earlier that day.

Duane then searched the police database and discovered an alert indicating that it was likely Hendrick was armed. Duane initiated a second, more thorough search and found a handgun inside Hendrick’s pants, near his shoe. Hendrick was arrested for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

The trial court denied Hendrick’s motion to suppress the evidence discovered during the search. Hendrick was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison with one year suspended. This appeal followed.


Probable cause may be supported by the detection of distinctive odors, as well as by sight, and does not require that an officer’s belief be more likely true than false. If an officer smells the odor of marijuana in circumstances where the officer can localize its source to a person, the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed or is committing the crime of possession of marijuana.

Here, not only was the smell of marijuana coming from Hendrick’s person, but Hendrick admitted to smoking marijuana earlier that day. All the more, Duane searched the car and could not find any marijuana despite the odor, and while he was conducting the search, Hendrick was acting nervously and asking questions. Hendrick also made furtive movements during the initial pat down.

Notably, Duane’s first encounter with Hendrick was a pat down for officer safety, which Hendrick does not challenge on appeal. It was not until after searching the car and observing Hendrick’s behavior that Duane conducted a full search. The officer had probable cause to search Hendrick based on the odor of marijuana emanating specifically from his person, his admission to smoking marijuana earlier that day, the alert on the police system that he was likely armed, and his furtive movements and nervous behavior.


Hendrick v. Commonwealth of Virginia, Record No. 0156-18-2, March 26, 2019. CAV (Petty), from Richmond Cir. Ct. (Spencer). Lauren Whitley for Appellant; Lauren C. Campbell for Appellee. VLW 019-7-051. 6 pp. Unpublished.

VLW 019-7-051

Virginia Lawyers Weekly