The incredible marijuana-sniffing detective

We've all heard some version of this detective's testimony before:Smelly Car

Q. What happened after the window went down?

A. I could smell an odor of burning marijuana coming from within. It immediately hits you once that window's down.

* * *

Q. You indicated you immediately smelled the marijuana. Would you indicate whether it was a weak, strong odor, somewhere in the middle?

A. It was---it wasn't low. It was a pretty heavy smell from---like I said, once you roll that window down, it kind of just hits you in the face.

But how often do we get a credibility ruling like this one?

[A]fter having observed Detective McGee's demeanor and manner while testifying, and thoroughly considering the totality of his testimony, the Court is unable to credit his testimony concerning the odor of marijuana coming from Defendant's vehicle.

That was the W.D. Pa. District Court, in an order concluding that Detective McGee unlawfully seized Mr. Martin when he ordered him out of his parked car without reasonable suspicion. United States v. Martin, No. 20-CR-00376, 2022 WL 3028580 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 2, 2022). The district court cited the detective's inability to recall other details about the encounter and the lack of any evidence (besides the alleged odor) of recently smoked marijuana:

  • The detective testified numerous times throughout the hearing that he couldn't recall certain matters, and his "inability to accurately recollect the matters at hand detracts from his credibility to some degree"
  • The detective saw no smoke coming from the window
  • The detective did not observe the defendant discard any butts out the window
  • The detective found a package of blunt wrappers in the car, but could not remember whether the package was open
  • No marijuana was found in the car

The district court also string-cited other cases in which an officer's testimony about smelling marijuana was not credited. Add this one to the list. And keep challenging those incredible marijuana-sniffing officers.