Court Calls Bullshit On Cop Who Claimed He Could Smell Weed In Sealed Bags In A Moving Car From His Own Moving Cruiser
from the STEAMED-HAMS-but-it's-this-cop's-story dept
It doesn’t happen nearly often enough, but it’s always enjoyable to watch a court lay the smackdown on a law enforcement officer’s literally unbelievable assertions. And this case [PDF] — via FourthAmendment.com — contains a claim from a supposedly trained and experienced officer that’s so ridiculous, the court has no choice but to discredit his testimony completely.
Indianapolis police officer Daniel Hiser performed a traffic stop that resulted in the discovery of marijuana and a handgun in Davon Gray’s possession. But it’s the events leading up to the stop that triggered the court’s BS detector — events that include Officer Hiser’s apparently miraculous olfactory sense.
Officer Hiser is surprisingly humble about his superhuman gift, something that has served him well during his years as a law enforcement officer.
Though Officer Hiser has never had his sense of smell tested and does not generally consider his sense of smell extraordinary, he estimates that he smells raw marijuana at some point during approximately a quarter of the traffic stops he conducts.
But any officer with similar training (“Officer Hiser received a ‘couple of hours’ training on the appearance and odor of multiple [drugs]…“) could be expected to smell marijuana in a stopped car with its windows down. Officer Hiser, however, can smell it in moving vehicles with their windows up located a few car lengths away from his impressive nose.
At about 3:30 p.m. on January 11, 2018, Officer Hiser was patrolling in his police cruiser in the East District when he turned south onto Arlington Avenue from 31st Street. As he moved into the left lane of Arlington Avenue behind a Dodge Stratus driven by Gray, Officer Hiser testified that he could smell the strong odor of raw marijuana. Officer Hiser believed the scent to be coming from the Stratus, so he continued southbound to try to verify that this vehicle was the source of the aroma. (Filing No. 72-1 at 5.) While cars were not “bumper to bumper,” there was still some traffic present. Several blocks later, around 23rd Street, the Stratus moved into the right lane, and Officer Hiser could no longer smell the marijuana odor. Officer Hiser then switched lanes and the fragrance returned. Id. The Stratus then slowed, turning into an Express Mart at the corner of 21st Street and Arlington Avenue. Again, as the Stratus departed the lane, Officer Hiser testified that the scent vanished. At this point, Officer Hiser decided to stop the vehicle and pulled behind the parked Stratus, initiating his emergency lights and siren.
Hiser could not state with any certainty whether he had ever performed this superhuman feat of olfactory awareness prior to this stop. He also could not state with any certainty whether his cruiser’s windows were down or whether Gray’s windows were down. The 3.59 ounces of marijuana found in the car Hiser claimed smelled like weed was located under the front seat inside resealable plastic bags.
Yes, courts are supposed to defer a bit to “trained” and “experienced” officers and their assertions about their ability to determine whether something is reasonably suspicious or objectively innocuous. And courts far too often reward unreasonable assertions made by cops with good faith passes or denials of motions to suppress.
But the court isn’t impressed by Hiser or his freak-of-olfactory-nature superpowers. You have got to be fucking kidding me, says the court.
The Court agrees with Gray that it is incredible that Officer Hiser—who self-admittedly does not have a heightened olfactory system—could smell the scent of two resealable sandwich sized plastic baggies of unburnt marijuana coming from a moving vehicle when patrolling in his cruiser. This occurrence is not only contrary to any common experiences, but is “implausible” and seemingly “contrary to the laws of nature.”
Unsurprisingly, there is exactly zero precedent that supports Hiser’s “if I smelt it they probably were in the process of, um, dealting it” theory of reasonable suspicion. (Emphasis in the original.)
The dearth of appellate caselaw considering—let alone upholding—Terry stops solely based on an officer smelling three ounces of raw marijuana emanating from two small ziplocked sandwich baggies located under the front seat a moving car, while he drives his own vehicle, supports a finding of incredibility of Officer Hiser’s testimony as a matter of law.
In fact, it can only find precedent that quotes an officer just as full of shit as Hiser.
“The arresting officer’s testimony that he observed defendant exchanging a 2-inch glass vial with a dark top, from a distance of approximately 74 feet, from a moving patrol car, after dark, is, in our view, contrary to common experience and, as such, was incredible as a matter of law and did not support the verdict.”
Away goes the stop, which means away goes the evidence. And without the evidence, the government has nothing, which it has acknowledged by dismissing Gray’s indictment.
It’s already impossible to believe cops smell as much marijuana as they do — something that handily allows them to start tossing vehicles and patting down vehicle occupants without troubling themselves with a warrant. This cop just took the lie too far.