NYC cops admit fake ‘weed smell’ is used for illegal probable cause searches
Last week, The New York Times unveiled several instances of New York City police officers lying or being told to lie about smelling marijuana in order to perform illegal searches.
This was just one of a dozen shocking findings from the NYT investigation that tracked 25 cases where judges or prosecutors found testimony from New York City police officers to be untrue. (And that’s just since January 2015, not including a plethora of questionably sealed cases.)
And of those 25 cases, the majority involved false statements by the police to hide illegal searches and seizures.
New York City police officer, Pedro Serrano, is quoted by the Times saying, “Certain car stops, certain cops will say there is odor of marijuana. And when I get to the scene, I immediately don’t smell anything ... I can’t tell you what you smelled, but it’s obvious to me there is no smell of marijuana.”
While some states still uphold that smelling marijuana is means for a legal search (check your laws, man) the 1961 ruling of Mapp V. Ohio ruled that state judges must disqualify evidence that results from illegal searches and seizures. The NYT writes, “Before this ruling, New York City officers could stop someone they thought might be dealing or using drugs, search their pockets and clothing, describe the encounter truthfully, and not worry that a court would throw out the drugs that they had discovered, even though the stop and search had been, strictly speaking, illegal.”
Police began (and are still today) grasping for probable cause, often stretching the truth to get it. As a result of Mapp V. Ohio, new patterns of police discovery have emerged, as reported by the Mollen Commission who note police may recall seeing a “bulge” in a pocket or seeing a drug bag “drop” from someone’s possession. However, much like “pot smell,” there are several instances where these justifications turn out to be complete fabrication, after police have testified to their happening.
And as anyone might guess, it isn’t just happening in NYC. A few years ago, four Chicago officers were found to have lied under oath during a drug bust claiming to have smelled marijuana — another in Albany from 2017, and yet another where a Virginia cop claimed to smell weed coming from a moving car.
How have these lies been revealed? Cameras and video recordings. Check out the full NYT account here. It’s insane.
Perhaps most worrisome is that officers with a record of fabricating testimony have been given no more than a slap on the wrist. One Brooklyn officer said that “there’s no fear of being caught ... You’re not going to go to trial and nobody is going to be cross-examined.”
If evidence arises that an officer lied, a plea deal is quickly slipped onto the table and the case disintegrates almost into thin air.
The NYT said at least two of the officers recorded to have lied in testimony now hold more senior roles as a Detective and member of the narcotics unit.