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Marijuana Odor Didn't Justify Search Without a Warrant

Marijuana Odor Didn't Justify Search Without a Warrant

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The odor of burning marijuana didn't justify a search of a central Utah trailer without a warrant, the Utah Supreme Court said Friday.

Police officers broke through the door of a trailer in Carbon County in April 2003 because they believed the suspects were eliminating evidence by smoking it. The court, however, said there was no sign that Bernadette Duran knew authorities were around.

"Most significantly, there is no indication that the law enforcement officers engaged in any effort, much less a reasonable one, to reconcile their ... needs with the demands of personal privacy," the court said in a 4-1 decision.

The Supreme Court upheld a ruling by the Utah Court of Appeals. The case originated with a judge in 7th District Court in Price, who had refused to throw out evidence. Police seized guns and drugs.

"Oh, hallelujah," Duran's attorney, Samuel B. Bailey, said. "This is good news."

Duran and three other defendants pleaded guilty to drug charges, although her conviction was conditional and thrown out after the appeals court declared the seizure illegal, Bailey said.

He had feared the Supreme Court would rule against Duran, giving police more authority and diminishing privacy rights.

The ruling "will change things," Bailey predicted. "They pay attention, officers do. They read the case law and they know when they get overturned."

The dissenter on Utah's highest court was Associate Chief Justice Michael Wilkins, who said "this was not a close call" that would require a search warrant.

"Protecting the rights of citizens does not necessarily require the handcuffing of police," he wrote.

The Utah Attorney General's Office, which took the case to the Supreme Court, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

In the decision written by Justice Ronald Nehring, the majority expressed concern that police might feel empowered to enter a house to check if minors were drinking alcohol or search an 18-year-old for cigarettes, both without warrants.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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