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Criminal Law -- Probable Cause: Illinois Adopts the Plain Smell Rule for Warrantless Searches of Vehicles. People v. Stout, 106 Ill. 2d 77, 477 N.E. 2d 498 (1985)

NCJ Number
Southern Illinois Law Journal Volume: 11 Dated: (Fall 1986) Pages: 153-169
M G Getty
Date Published
17 pages
The decision of the Illinois Supreme Court to adopt the 'plain smell rule' in permitting a warrantless search of a vehicle was unfortunate.
The court reached the decision in People v. Stout in 1985, overruling an appellate court. The supreme court held that the uncorroborated detection of the cannabis odor by a trained and experienced police officer provided probable cause for that officer to conduct a warrantless search of Robert Stout's vehicle. The decision provides an opening for abuse of the fourth amendment by allowing general searches based solely on a subjective finding of probable cause. In addition, the subjective standard reduces a credibility determination of an officer at a suppression hearing to a finding of whether the officer had sufficient training and experience to be deemed qualified to recognize the odor of cannabis. Cross-examination about the specific circumstances surrounding a warrantless search will thus not be possible. Moreover, the court's lack of guidelines regarding the sufficiency of training and experience required of an officer before conducting a plain smell search leaves lower courts without a standard by which to judge credibility. Finally, the decision clearly points out the need for restriction of the 'serendipity' doctrine. Courts should be allowed to use their discretion and restrict this doctrine in plain smell cases. 144 footnotes. (Author summary modified)


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