State v. Pigford, ___ N.C. App. ___, 789 S.E.2d 857 (Aug. 2, 2016)

In this drug case, the court held, deciding an issue of first impression, that an odor of marijuana emanating from inside a vehicle stopped at a checkpoint did not provide an officer with probable cause to conduct an immediate warrantless search of the driver. The defendant was driving the stopped vehicle; a passenger sat in the front seat. The officer was unable to establish the exact location of the odor but determined that it was coming from inside the vehicle. Upon smelling the odor, the officer ordered the defendant out of the vehicle and searched him, finding cocaine and other items. On appeal the defendant argued that although the officer smelled marijuana emanating from the vehicle, there was no evidence that the odor was attributable to the defendant personally. It was not contested that the officer had probable cause to search the vehicle. Probable cause to search a vehicle however does not justify search of a passenger. The State offered no evidence that the marijuana odor was attributable to the defendant. The court held: the officer “may have had probable cause to search the vehicle, but he did not have probable cause to search defendant.”