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People v. Weaver

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

December 19, 2013

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
HAROLD WEAVER, Defendant-Appellant.

Held [*]

The appellate court affirmed defendant’s conviction for unlawful cannabis trafficking following a stipulated bench trial, notwith- standing his contention that the “faint odor” of cannabis coming from the backseat of his vehicle did not provide probable cause to search the trunk, since the testimony of the state trooper who made the initial stop based on defendant’s speeding, including the testimony as to his training and expertise with respect to drug interdiction and the detection of the “faint odor” of cannabis in the backseat area, furnished probable cause for a search of the trunk.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Henry County, No. 12-CF-274; the Hon. Charles H. Stengel, Judge, presiding

Bruce L. Carmen (argued), of Carmen Law Office, PC, of Cambridge, for appellant.

Terence M. Patton, State’s Attorney, of Cambridge (Nadia L. Chaudhry and Judith Z. Kelly (argued), both of State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor’s Office, of counsel), for the People.

Justices Holdridge and O'Brien concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

LYTTON, JUSTICE.

¶ 1 Defendant, Harold Weaver, was arrested after a traffic stop led to the discovery of raw cannabis in the trunk of his car. Following a stipulated bench trial, the trial court found defendant guilty of unlawful cannabis trafficking (720 ILCS 550/5.1(a) (West 2012)) and sentenced him to 12 years in prison. On appeal, defendant argues that the court erred in denying his motion to suppress the evidence against him because the "faint odor" of cannabis emanating from the backseat of his vehicle did not give the officer probable cause to search the trunk. We affirm.

¶ 2 At the motion to suppress hearing, Officer Sean Veryzer testified that on August 4, 2012, he was on duty as a state trooper assigned to patrol Interstate 80. Around 8 p.m., he observed defendant's vehicle traveling eastbound at a high rate of speed. He fixed his radar on defendant and clocked the vehicle at 70 miles per hour in a 65-mile-per-hour zone. Veryzer activated his lights and pulled defendant over.

¶ 3 As Veryzer approached defendant's vehicle, he noticed that the rear window was down "about three inches." He reported a strong odor of laundry detergent or fabric softener emanating from the vehicle. Veryzer informed defendant that he was speeding and asked defendant to sit in his squad car while he issued a written warning.

¶ 4 After Veryzer completed the warning, he escorted defendant back to his car and informed defendant that he was "good to go." As defendant walked back to his vehicle, Veryzer called to him and started asking him a few more questions. Veryzer asked defendant if he could look in the trunk. Defendant initially said "yes" but then withdrew his consent and said that he needed to go. Veryzer then asked if he could search the interior portion of the vehicle, and defendant consented. Defendant opened the rear door and allowed Veryzer to search the car. A few moments later, Veryzer emerged and informed defendant that he detected the faint odor of cannabis. He then read defendant his Miranda rights and searched the trunk of the car.

¶5 Veryzer testified that he had been a state trooper for four years and had taken more than 140 hours of criminal patrol classes for drug interdiction, which were designed to train officers for drug trafficking. He testified that, based on the knowledge he gained in those classes and the numerous arrests he had made, he was familiar with the smell of raw cannabis and could differentiate between raw and burnt marijuana. During the search of defendant's vehicle, he detected the odor of raw cannabis from the backseat area of the vehicle.

¶ 6 On redirect examination, Veryzer testified that he retrieved a duffel bag from the trunk of defendant's car and that the bag contained cannabis wrapped in small sealed plastic bags that were then placed in large bags that were also sealed. Sheets of fabric softener had been placed between the packaging.

¶ 7 Defendant testified that he packaged the cannabis himself. He placed the cannabis in oven bags and then layered the bags with two commercial style oven bags that he taped shut. He placed dryer sheets between the two commercial oven bags. Defendant testified that he was not able to smell cannabis as he was driving. He testified that he did not give Officer Veryzer consent to search the trunk of his car. In closing, defendant argued that, assuming he consented to the search and that his consent was valid, the faint odor of cannabis was insufficient evidence to meet the "plain smell" test for probable cause to search the trunk.

¶ 8 The trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress. In reaching its decision, the court stated that it found Veryzer's testimony that he smelled the "faint odor" of raw cannabis credible. The court noted that the officer was trained to detect the odor of raw marijuana and concluded that the officer's detection of the odor of cannabis in the rear of the vehicle gave him probable cause to search the trunk.

¶ 9 The matter was set for a stipulated bench trial. At the stipulated bench trial, the following discussion occurred:

"THE COURT: All right. All right, so it's a stipulated bench trial tantamount to a plea of guilty.
MR. CARMEN: That's right. THE COURT: Is that your ...

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