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Officer smell can be the basis for probable cause


In 2006, Kendrick Cowan was traveling with Roderick Cowan and Alvin Wiseman on Highway 78, while en route from Memphis, Tennessee to Atlanta, Georgia. The three men rented a car and were on their way to Atlanta, a source city for narcotics, where Kendrick Cowan was going to buy a car advertised on the internet. The record is unclear as to whom was driving, but Roderick Cowan, who is Cowan’s brother, and Wiseman sat in the front seat. Kendrick Cowan sat in the backseat.

While passing through New Albany, Mississippi, they were stopped for speeding by State Trooper Calvin Mangum. Mangum testified that he was suspicious of the car because it was a rental and all three occupants broke their necks turning around when they passed his patrol car. According to Mangum, drug couriers use rental vehicles so they will not lose their personal vehicle if there is a seizure.

Mangum approached the car from the passenger side and knocked on the window twice. The passenger ignored Mangum, so he opened the front passenger side door. Mangum testified that he immediately smelled burning marijuana. Mangum and Trooper Richard Vaughn removed the men from the vehicle, patted them down, and handcuffed them.

During the pat down, the troopers found marijuana on Wiseman. Next, the troopers searched the car and found $12,974.54 vacuum packed and wrapped in a sports coat on the backseat and a Carpet Fresh spray can with a false bottom on the backseat floorboard. Mangum testified that drug dealers commonly vacuum seal money to prevent drug-sniffing dogs from detecting drug residue on the money.

At some point during the stop, Mangum called Agent Mike Foreman with MBN for assistance. During a search, officers discovered marijuana hidden on Wiseman and Roderick Cowan. Drugs were never found on Kendrick Cowan.

MBN brought a civil forfeiture action against Kendrick Cowan for the $12,974.54. After a trial on the merits, the circuit judge found that the money was derived from the sale of illegal drugs and ordered it forfeited to MBN. On appeal Kendrick Cowan argued the search of the car was ilegal. MCOA affirmed.


Cowan argues the search of the automobile, which yielded the money and the Carpet Fresh spray can, was illegal. However, the car was lawfully stopped for speeding. There was no evidence to the contrary.

Mangum testified that he immediately smelled burning marijuana when he opened the front passenger side door. MSC said in Townsend that smell can be the basis for probable cause. Once he smelled marijuana, Mangum had probable cause to search the vehicle. Mangum’s legal search of the vehicle yielded the money and the Carpet Fresh spray can. This issue has no merit.