from the Superior Court in Maricopa County The Honorable
Jeanne M. Garcia, Judge No. CR2013-424212
of the Court of Appeals, Division One 237 Ariz. 502, 353 P.3d
382 (App. 2015)
Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General, John R. Lopez IV,
Solicitor General, Joseph T. Maziarz, Chief Counsel, Criminal
Appeals Section, Myles A. Braccio (argued), Assistant
Attorney General, Phoenix, Attorneys for State of Arizona.
Maricopa County Public Defender, Carlos Daniel Carrion
(argued), Deputy Public Defender, Phoenix, Attorneys for Ian
JUSTICE BALES authored the opinion of the Court, in which
VICE CHIEF JUSTICE PELANDER and JUSTICES BRUTINEL, TIMMER and
We here consider whether, after passage of the Arizona
Medical Marijuana Act ("AMMA"), A.R.S. §§
36-2801 through 2819, the odor of marijuana emanating from a
vehicle establishes probable cause to believe the vehicle
contains contraband or evidence of a crime. Consistent with
our concurrently issued opinion in State v. Sisco,
CR-15-0265-PR, slip op. at ___¶ 26 (Ariz. July
___, 2016), we hold that the odor of marijuana
sufficed to establish probable cause, and the ensuing search
was therefore authorized by the automobile exception to the
In May 2013, two police officers stopped Ian Cheatham's
car on the suspicion that its window tinting violated Arizona
law. After approaching the driver's window and speaking
with Cheatham, one officer noticed a "pretty
strong" odor of burnt marijuana from inside the vehicle.
Based on the odor, the officer asked Cheatham to exit the
vehicle and then searched the car. During the search, the
officer found a small amount -described as the "size of
a marble" - of unburnt marijuana under the driver's
seat. The officer seized the marijuana and arrested Cheatham.
Before his trial for possession or use of marijuana, Cheatham
filed a motion to suppress. He argued that, after AMMA, the
odor of marijuana alone no longer provides probable cause,
and therefore the search of his vehicle was not authorized by
the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. The
trial court denied the motion. After a bench trial, the court
found Cheatham guilty and placed him on supervised probation
for one year.
The court of appeals affirmed and held that, notwithstanding
AMMA, "the odor of marijuana provided sufficient
probable cause that marijuana was present and that a crime
was being or had been committed." State v.
Cheatham, 237 Ariz. 502, 506 ¶ 14, 353
P.3d 382, 386 (App. 2015). Distinguishing State v.
Sisco, 238 Ariz. 229, 359 P.3d 1 (App. 2015), which had
not involved a vehicle, the court also stated that it
disagreed with Sisco to the extent its analysis
could be read to "direct a different result" here.
Id. at 506 ¶ 13 n.5, 353 P.3d at 386.
We granted review because whether AMMA affects the
determination of probable cause based on the odor of
marijuana is a recurring issue of statewide importance. We
have jurisdiction pursuant to Article 6, Section 5(3), of the
Arizona Constitution and A.R.S. § 12-120.24.
We review the denial of a motion to suppress evidence for an
abuse of discretion. State v. Wilson, 237
Ariz. 296, 298 ¶ 7,350 P.3d 800, 802 (2015).
An error of law constitutes an abuse of discretion. State
v. Bernstein,237 Ariz. 226, 228 ¶ 9, 349
P.3d 200, 202 (2015). Whether the probable cause
determination here comports with the Fourth Amendment is a
mixed question ...