State v. White, 836 F.3d 437 (Sept. 9, 2016)

A local West Virginia law enforcement officer stopped a car that had veered out of its lane. In addition to the driver, there was a front seat passenger, the defendant, and one back seat passenger, Bone. When approaching the driver’s window, he smelled an odor of burned marijuana emanating from the car. The driver, whom the officer concluded was not impaired, denied knowledge of the marijuana. The officer requested that the defendant exit the car and asked him about the marijuana odor, but he denied anything illegal in the car. While talking with Bone, the officer saw a firearm in a piece of plastic molding on the front side of the passenger seat where the defendant had been sitting. The defendant was arrested and later convicted in federal district court of possession of a firearm by a felon.

The defendant conceded that the stop of the vehicle was supported by reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation under West Virginia law, but he contended that the officer unconstitutionally prolonged the stop. The fourth circuit noted that its case law provides that the odor of marijuana alone can provide probable cause to believe that marijuana is present in a particular place. So the officer had reasonable suspicion to extend the traffic stop to investigate the marijuana odor. And during that investigation the officer found the firearm. The court ruled that therefore the officer did not unconstitutionally prolong the traffic stop.