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State v. Cheatham

Supreme Court of Arizona

July 11, 2016

State of Arizona, Appellee,
v.
Ian Harvey Cheatham, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County The Honorable Jeanne M. Garcia, Judge No. CR2013-424212

         Opinion of the Court of Appeals, Division One 237 Ariz. 502, 353 P.3d 382 (App. 2015)

          Mark 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 Harvey Cheatham.

          CHIEF JUSTICE BALES authored the opinion of the Court, in which VICE CHIEF JUSTICE PELANDER and JUSTICES BRUTINEL, TIMMER and BOLICK joined.

          OPINION

          BALES, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         ¶1 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 warrant requirement.

         I.

         ¶2 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.

         ¶3 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.

         ¶4 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.

         ¶5 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.

         II.

         ¶6 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 ...


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