The Idaho Court of Appeals found a police officer was justified in opening two suitcases belonging to a bus passenger after a Greyhound employee noticed the strong smell of marijuana.
Lori Lovely, 56, of Shasta Lake, Calif., was traveling on a bus that made a stop in Boise during her trip between Portland, Ore., and Minneapolis. A Greyhound employee opened the luggage compartment to adjust the checked baggage and detected a strong odor of marijuana coming from a red suitcase.
The employee closed the compartment and called police. Cpl. Randy Arthur responded and likewise smelled the scent of pot coming from the suitcase. Arthur then brought his police dog Rocky to walk around the bus and the dog “leaped into the luggage compartment, crouched on the suitcase, jumped out of the compartment and then barked,” alerting to the presence of drugs.
Arthur and other officers broke a lock on the suitcase and found several bags of marijuana inside. A second suitcase belonging to Lovely was also searched and officers found several more bags of marijuana inside.
When Lovely was taken into custody, officers found a small amount of methamphetamine in her purse.
An Ada County jury found Lovely guilty of trafficking in marijuana and possession of a controlled substance. She was sentenced to six to nine years in prison.
In her appeal, Lovely argued that Arthur should have required a warrant to search her belongings. District Judge Steven Hippler rejected the same argument at trial.
Warrantless searches and seizures are generally considered unreasonable. However, an automobile exception gives police the right to search a vehicle if there’s probable cause to believe the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime.
Lovely did not challenge whether there was probable cause to search her luggage. Instead, she argued that the automobile exception did not apply to a commercial bus and that officers could have obtained a warrant and had the bus searched at its next stop.
The appeals court found the automobile exception did apply and there was no “practical difference between an immediate search without a warrant and the luggage’s immobilization until a warrant is obtained,” Judge Molly Huskey wrote in the five-page decision issued Wednesday.