FLORIDA COP WHO LIED ABOUT SMELLING POT TO SEARCH VEHICLE SHOULD BE PROSECUTED & PUNISHED

Gloating officer with a bag of marijuana looks like he might enjoy using the smell of pot to gain entry to a home or vehicle with a search warrant in Tampa Bay, Florida.

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. 

OFFICERS WHO LIE IN POLICE REPORTS OR UNDER OATH SHOULD BE DISCIPLINED & PROSECUTED FOR PERJURY

If a law enforcement officer deliberately gives false evidence under oath the officer should not only be disciplined within the force, but lose his job. Shouldn’t that officer also face appropriate criminal charges? 

Pinocchio-1940-poster.jpg In Tampa Bay and Clearwater Florida police make up facts to become Officer Pinocchio lying on police reports and during testimony.
Officer Pinocchio smells Marijuana

Yet in Florida it’s very rare to find prosecutors willing to charge police officers with perjury. The problem often originates in the first incident reports created by officers after arrests are made. 

Prosecutors see that officers make many factual errors from the very beginning of each case. After all, no one is perfect. Nor could one reasonably expect an exact rendition of facts. 

Yet Clearwater criminal defense attorneys often find that the initial incident reports are replete with factual errors that place those arrested by officers at a disadvantage while helping police make easy arrests. Too often police are willing to break or bend the law based on their mere suspicions of wrongdoing. And officers know that most folks whom they arrest do not have the means to fight the criminal system in a quest for justice.

Police first learn to bend the truth to become effective law enforcement officers. In fact, while I was a prosecutor it was clear that officers were routinely taught that there was no need to be truthful to defendants during investigations. Further, officers are told that if they find evidence of crime they should exploit the discovery by searching for further evidence. 

Here in Tampa Bay, Florida officers are taught that if they smell marijuana they can search a vehicle or even someone’s home without a search warrant. Naturally every officer too lazy to get a proper warrant somehow smells marijuana even when it’s not at the crime scene. No wonder the typical officers’ nose is so very long, as for centuries they’ve been bred for smelling efficiency mixed with the wooden bearing of Pinocchio.

I had a client who was charged with trafficking in methamphetamine because the arresting officer searched the vehicle without a warrant after smelling marijuana. But miracle of miracles there was no marijuana in the car at all only a hell of a lot of methamphetamine. Was the Tampa officer lying? Here’s his explanation:

The car was clearly being used for trafficking drugs. The distinct odor of marijuana I smelled came from the trunk area of the vehicle. It’s clear that the trunk area must have been where the marijuana had been stored. 

The Defendant obviously had just made a delivery of the marijuana probably only minutes before I made the stop of the vehicle for a bad tag.

With a little prodding he’d have happily divined the quantity in each bag, the grade of marijuana and it’s unique hallucinogenic affects. 

In another case which the state attorney’s office no filed and dismissed, officers keen sense of smell helped them gain entry into a home where sure enough after turning the house inside and out they found that marijuana – one lone unlit joint in the bedroom far from the front door. Because the officers never lied under oath about the marijuana they were neither disciplined nor were they charged with perjury. The officers should also be disciplined.

It’s not enough when cases that originate based on a lie are no filed and dismissed. What can be done to correct poor police conduct? What is the best remedy that would require reliable, honest police investigations?

Here’s a solution that would bring justice to the criminal system. Every officer who writes a report must not only sign the report, but sign a sworn affidavit that everything in the report is accurate, honest and fair to the best of his knowledge. 

Law enforcement officers who are found to have violated the affidavit would be disciplined, fired and then charged with perjury. The threat of perjury charges based not only on sworn testimony under oath during jury trials, but also on investigations themselves as defined in police reports would go a long way toward solving the problem of dishonest law enforcement officers. The role of officers would be redefined as having the foremost duty of always abiding by the law.