Earlier this month, a circuit court in Virginia was faced with the decision of whether to grant a defendant’s appeal in a case involving marijuana and firearm possession. In his appeal, the defendant argued that because of his constitutional right to privacy, the court should have suppressed incriminating evidence that officers found when searching his home. The higher court reviewed the facts of the case and ultimately denied the defendant’s appeal, upholding the original guilty verdict.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, two officers came to the defendant’s apartment one afternoon because a neighbor had called 911, reporting disorderly conduct. As soon as the officers stepped out of their car, they smelled marijuana, and they approached the defendant’s door to investigate the odor as well as the possible disorderly conduct.
When the defendant answered the door, he told the officers they could not come in without a search warrant. The officers told the defendant that he had two options: he could let them inside, or he could wait on the porch in handcuffs while they went to get a proper warrant. The defendant conceded that he had been smoking marijuana, and the officers immediately entered the apartment.
Upon searching the home, the officers found a baseball-sized bag of marijuana along with a trash bag filled with marijuana. They also saw a firearm, a large amount of cash, and a digital scale. In order to seize this evidence, the officers left the home, applied for and received a search warrant, then returned to the defendant’s apartment. They then took away these items, along with an additional handgun they found in the dresser drawer.
The defendant was charged with and convicted of possession with intent to distribute, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and possession of a firearm while distributing marijuana.
On appeal, the defendant’s main argument was that the officers illegally entered his home, and thus that the incriminating evidence they found in the apartment should have been suppressed at trial. He had not consented to the search, and he had a constitutional right to privacy that the officers violated by entering his home without a warrant.
To rebut this argument, the Commonwealth argued that the “inevitable discovery doctrine” should guide the court’s decision. This doctrine states that even if an officer comes by evidence illegally if that officer would have ultimately discovered that incriminating evidence regardless, the evidence is admissible in court. Here, said the Commonwealth, the officers smelled marijuana when they first exited their vehicle – at this point, they were on the public street, and had not violated the defendant’s privacy in any sense.
The court agreed with the Commonwealth’s analysis. Because the officers would have eventually found the marijuana either way, given that they smelled the marijuana as soon as they stepped out of their car, the inevitable discovery doctrine was applicable. Thus, the defendant’s appeal was denied.
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