Smell can be the basis for probable cause


In 2005, Robert Robinson was pulled over for speeding in Bolivar County by Mississippi Highway Patrolman Dan Rawlinson. Rawlinson testified that upon reaching the vehicle, he detected the smell of raw marijuana coming from the passenger’s area where Robinson’s nephew, William Wilson, was sitting.

Furthermore, Rawlinson noted the vehicle’s inspection sticker was expired, and later he discovered the vehicle identification number located inside the car had been stripped and did not match the car’s description. Officer Jacob Lott and his drug-sensing dog arrived at the scene at the request of Rawlinson shortly after Robinson was pulled over.

The dog alerted Lott on two occasions to the presence of drugs inside the vehicle. After searching the vehicle, Rawlinson discovered a bag in the trunk containing the following four controlled substances: ecstasy, cocaine, marijuana, and alprazolam.

Robinson was convicted of possession of  MDMA, possession of cocaine, possession of marijuana, and possession of alprazolam and sentenced to 30 years. On appeal, he argued his lawyer was ineffective for not filing a direct appeal when the trial judge failed to suppress the evidence. MCOA affirmed.


In the circuit judge’s order denying Robinson’s motion to suppress, the judge stated that under the automobile exception, the police may conduct a warrantless search of an automobile and any containers therein if they have probable cause to believe that it contains contraband or evidence of crime.

In Cowan, we recently reiterated that smell can be the basis for probable cause, with respect to illegal drugs. Cowan dealt with a similar set of facts: the defendant had been stopped for speeding; an officer approached the vehicle and smelled marijuana; and the officer then conducted a search of the vehicle wherein he discovered illegal drugs. We held that once the officer in Cowan smelled the marijuana, he had probable cause to search the vehicle for controlled substances.

Likewise, the circuit court was correct in ruling that the search of the vehicle in our case was proper. As such, it was not reversible error for Robinson’s appellate counsel to fail to raise the issue on direct appeal.