ATLANTA — Two North Georgia troopers say they followed their noses to almost 3 pounds of marijuana stashed in the trunk of a car they stopped on I-75.
Troopers Jeff Adamson and Kevin Turner said they caught a whiff of "raw marijuana" from within Jarmane Vernon Knox's car.
This gave them probable cause to search, find the pot and arrest Knox and his passenger, Derrick Mikes.
But Knox, of Chattanooga, claims that something about the arrest smells funny.
Specially trained dogs are often used to sniff out illicit drugs, but is the human nose that sensitive?
The dispute has spawned a novel challenge in a court motion filed in Gordon County Superior Court.
It seeks a court order to have the marijuana put back inside a trash bag and placed in the trunk of a random car in the courthouse parking lot.
The troopers would then be asked to prove they can really smell as well as a trained, certified drug dog can, the motion said.
The motion, filed by Knox's lawyer, David West of Marietta, seeks to have the seized marijuana suppressed as evidence from an unlawful search.
"It's ridiculous and totally stretches the possibilities of scientific fact to suggest these officers could smell a bag of raw marijuana that's tied up and enclosed in the trunk," West said. "They're trying to make us believe they can basically be drug dogs in this case."
Turner, a 30-year veteran officer, said Tuesday that he has no trouble detecting the smell of raw marijuana.
"Oh, yeah," he said, when asked if it was possible to smell it hidden inside a trunk.
"Just because it's in a bag, the smell can seep out. If you've ever smelled raw marijuana, oh, yeah, you know what it is. It's a very unique odor. Through my training and experience, I can smell it."
Adamson, who is on military leave, could not be reached for comment.
District Attorney Joseph Campbell declined to comment on the motion.
One scientific expert believes it was not possible for the troopers to smell the pot from outside the car.
"They can't do it," said Richard Doty, director of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center's Smell and Taste Center. "They can't smell it, even if there's a lot of marijuana in the back of the car."
In 2004, Doty co-authored a paper, published in an American Psychology-Law Society journal, that cited a study that found the odor of pot from inside a car trunk was not reliably discernible, even by people with an excellent sense of smell.
The study tested five men and five women, using marijuana supplied by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office that was put in a garbage bag and placed in the trunk of a Chevy.
Little research has been conducted on the capacity to detect marijuana's odor, the paper added. "This dearth of information bears considerable legal consequence, because courts often accept the arguments… that marijuana's odor can always be detected."
Knox was arrested Nov. 16, 2006, when he and Mikes were driving north through Gordon County in northwest Georgia.
In his report, Adamson wrote he pulled the car over because its license plate light was out and he was unsure if the car had a tag.
When he walked up to the car, he was overwhelmed by the smell of air fresheners and saw two hanging from the rear view mirror.
He told Knox to step to the rear of the car.
Knox initially gave the officer conflicting information about where he was going, prompting Adamson to walk to the passenger side of the car and talk to Mikes.
When he got to the side of the car, Adamson wrote, he smelled "raw marijuana."
"Based on my knowledge and training, I felt there was criminal behavior afoot," Adamson wrote.
Adamson called for backup, summoning Turner to the scene.
When Turner arrived, "he clearly smelled raw marijuana coming from within the vehicle," the report said.
Knox and Mikes admitted to having earlier smoked a marijuana "blunt," but denied there was any pot in the car, the report said.
The officers searched the trunk and found marijuana inside a white trash bag.
Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter said cases like this are not unusual.
While a drug prosecutor, Porter said he had cases where he could smell marijuana inside a car.
"These kinds of cases turn on the circumstances of the stop and the credibility of the officers," Porter said.
"As for the marijuana, a lot of it depends on how it is packaged and the freshness of it. Sometimes there is a very distinctive odor."
But West, Knox's lawyer, said the court should not take the officers at their word.
"I say if these officers really think they are human drug dogs, let's put them to the test," he said.
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