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Whiteside Co. Judge: 'Cannabis odor' no longer probable cause to search Illinois vehicles

The ruling comes after a passenger showed an Illinois State Trooper his medical use card and was arrested for possessing 2.6 grams of cannabis in December 2020.
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MORRISON, Ill. — A new order from Whiteside County Court ruled the smell of cannabis alone does not give police officers the authority to perform a warrantless search of vehicles in Illinois.

The decision comes after an arrest on December 3, 2020 when an Illinois State Trooper stopped a motor vehicle for speeding on Interstate 88 in rural Whiteside County.

According to the Whiteside County Court order, Trooper Wagand stopped a gray Chevy Impala driven by Kayla Cervantes, with the defendant, Vincent Molina, riding as the passenger.

The trooper requested and received identification during when he said he smelled "raw cannabis", which prompted him to search the vehicle even after Molina showed his medical use card. Molina was arrested for a misdemeanor possession of 2.6 grams of cannabis.

With the outcome being changed nearly one year later, it's a decision that could have a historic impact on Illinois government and law enforcement.

“I am honored to have been part of such an important decision. This case was much more important than me,” Molina said. “It was about our right to be free from unreasonable searches for legal conduct. I am just grateful to have been a part of protecting that right."

Molina's defense lawyers, Attorneys James Mertes and Nichalas Rude, filed a motion to suppress the evidence, saying the cannabis odor could not be used as a basis for police to search vehicles after the recent decriminalization of cannabis.

Associate Judge of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Daniel J. Dalton, ruled that Molina, "...did not indicate any other reason for his suspicions or his search other than the smell of raw cannabis," and that, "Molina did provide a medical use license to (the trooper) prior to the search of the vehicle."

"There are a number of wholly innocent reasons a person or the vehicle in which they are in may smell of raw cannabis," Dalton said.

There is a possibility the State of Illinois chooses to appeal the court's decision, which Mertes says he will continue to defend Molina's rights should the issue enter a higher level of the judicial system.

"The decision of whether to appeal today's (November 22) ruling belongs to the government," Mertes said. If the state does appeal, we will continue to vigorously defend the constitutional rights of our client at the appellate levels."

News 8 will continue to update this story

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