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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

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        The conviction of a man for trafficking and possession of marijuana after being stopped by Walbridge police on I-280 has been upheld by the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals.

        Scott Donaldson, of Whitehouse, had appealed a decision by the Wood County Common Pleas Court to deny his motion to suppress evidence.

        Walbridge officers on Dec. 13, 2016 stopped Donaldson’s vehicle in the southbound lane of I-280 after he failed to signal prior to changing lanes, according to court records, and one officer reported “a very strong odor of raw marijuana” as he approached the vehicle. When asked about the odor, Donaldson acknowledged he had a small amount of marijuana in his jacket pocket. While checking Donaldson’s license, police learned he had an active warrant out of Erie, Michigan for marijuana possession.

        The officers seized a vial and $1,400 in cash from Donaldson and proceeded to search the vehicle and found no drugs in the passenger compartment. A search of the trunk revealed seven plastic bags of suspected marijuana hidden in paint buckets.

        When asked, Donaldson said the bags each weighed a quarter pound.

        Donaldson entered a plea of not guilty and in May 2017 filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing the marijuana was unlawfully seized as a result of warrantless search that wasn’t authorized by any exception to the warrant clauses of the constitutions of Ohio or the United States.

        The common pleas court ruled the officer’s detection of the odor of marijuana provided the requisite probable cause to search the entire vehicle.

        The court further found that the vial of marijuana and cash produced by Donaldson when instructed to empty his pockets could be subject to suppression because the officers lacked any reasonable suspicion that Donaldson was armed or dangerous and no pat-down was conducted prior to Donaldson emptying his pockets.

        However, the court concluded the vial and cash shouldn’t be suppressed because they would have inevitably been found after the officers discovered the marijuana in the trunk and arrested Donaldson.

        He was sentenced to two years of community control and ordered to forfeit his vehicle and the cash.

        The appeals court affirmed the lower court decision and distinguished between search situations involving the odor of raw marijuana and burning marijuana.

        Citing other decisions, the appeals court wrote, “…where an officer detects a strong odor of raw marijuana, but no large amount is found within the passenger compartment of the vehicle, the officer has probable cause to search trunk.”

        The appeals court also rejected Donaldson’s argument that the small amount of marijuana he produced before the search eliminated the probable cause to search the vehicle.

        “Ohio courts have held that the production of drugs by an occupant of a vehicle independently provides an officer with additional probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of contraband,” the court wrote.

 

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