Pinellas Circuit Judge Andrews recently found that a nosey police officer's testimony was too incredible to be believed when the officer said he could smell marijuana in a vehicle he wanted to search for drugs. As often happens in Florida although the vehicle did have cocaine when searched without a warrant no marijuana was found. Officers in Florida are taught to use the smell of marijuana as a pretext to search vehicles without taking the time, paperwork or probable cause for a proper search warrant.
In his written opinion the judge noted that "... it stretches the limits of credulity for this court to believe that the search of the defendant's vehicle was based upon the odor of marijuana." What then, one wonders, was the search based on and why did officers choose that particular vehicle to stop?
Of the many St. Petersburg Police officers at the scene of the pulled over SUV only one testified that he could smell marijuana albeit mixed with vanilla air freshener to justify the search. Clearly when other officers could not readily obtain a search warrant, this officer decided that breaking the law justified an unlawful search. And let's not mince words - the officer did break the law. First, the police officer committed at least a trespass and possibly an armed burglary of the vehicle since he had neither a search warrant nor permission to enter the vehicle. Second, the officer while testifying that he smelled marijuana may have committed the crime of perjury if he knowingly lied under oath during the Motion to Suppress evidence.
This manufacturing of evidence has been a recurring problem with Tampa Bay police officers. The only way for it to end is not only for heroic judges to throw out cases based on lies, but for the police departments to punish those who do it.
I had a case in the Middle District Court in Tampa in which the initial stop was based on the very strong smell of marijuana. Yet when the trunk was opened without a search warrant there was no marijuana at all only a large quantity of methamphetamine. Despite suggestions from the government agents that marijuana must recently have been in the drunk, but offloaded just before the stop, the more reasonable likelihood is that the agents simply were not being honest.
Each defense lawyer in Pinellas County, Florida should be on the look out for any cases involving this officer. All of his pending cases should be reexamined by the state attorney's office to determine if the factual basis for criminal charges is corrupt. Further, every plea and every conviction involving his work should be investigated. If it is found after an investigation that the officer knowingly lied to the Judge or entered the vehicle inappropriately then St. Petersburg Police Department should not only fire the officer, but arrest him for perjury, trespass or armed burglary.