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Old 09 March 2015, 06:35 PM
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erwins erwins is offline
Join Date: 04 April 2006
Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 12,367

Originally Posted by Lainie View Post
If they don't have a search warrant, you don't have to let them search your house or car at all.
Cars have a few exceptions to the warrant requirement. You don't have to give permission, but police may be able to search for certain things, or for certain purposes, without a warrant anyway. (Just jumping off from here--not directed at Lainie specifically).

First, if the driver of the car is being arrested, there is an exception for the inside of the car that allows a search "incident to arrest" for weapons, contraband, and evidence of the crime of arrest if applicable.

Then there's the mobile vehicle exception that allows a search for evidence of the crime for which the person is being arrested elsewhere in the car, like in the trunk or the bed of a truck. If the crime at issue is one where evidence of it could be found in an envelope, police could open the envelope.

Finally, there's an inventory of a vehicle that is being impounded. If the vehicle is to be impounded (required for certain violations or crimes, and sometimes necessary if the vehicle isn't in a safe parking place when the driver is arrested and no other driver is readily available), then police will inventory the contents. I think a bulky envelope would be opened in order to ascertain whether it contained valuables.

Also, in the course of any legal interaction with the car or its contents, the plain view and related "plain smell" doctrines would come into play. If an officer is inventorying "one sealed envelope" and they can clearly smell that it contains marijuana, then they would have probable cause to seize it and open it. There's nothing magical about envelopes that would prevent that.

On the other hand, all of this may be starting to be a non-issue with marijuana if other states start to follow suit with decriminalizing or legalizing it. Here in Oregon even before legalization, it was only a crime to possess more than an ounce of marijuana, or to be trafficking. It was only a violation to possess less than an ounce. So while it was still illegal, if caught you just got a ticket. Now it will be legal, starting this summer. (Though it is still illegal under federal law everywhere in the country).
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