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LINCOLN — The Nebraska Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a juvenile for marijuana possession Friday after ruling Omaha police found the pot after an illegal traffic stop.
The Supreme Court ordered the case back to juvenile court for the dismissal of charges against a juvenile girl identified as “Ashley W.”
She was given a citation for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana in the summer of 2010 after a vehicle she was riding in was stopped by police. Officers Dan Wootton and Josiah Warren made the stop while investigating a fireworks complaint.
At a bench trial, the officers testified they saw no evidence that the girl and the male driver of the car had been shooting fireworks. Instead, the officers testified that the two, who were legally parked, simply looked at police as their cruiser passed by before driving away.
After making the stop, one of the officers smelled marijuana while walking to the car.
The girl and driver then gave consent for a search. The search turned up the drug, which the girl claimed belonged to her, police testified.
At trial, the girl and her lawyer argued the evidence should have been suppressed. Lower courts denied their motion.
But the high court opinion said the evidence should have been suppressed because it stemmed entirely from the illegal stop. The court found that the officers made the stop without cause, in violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
“Generalized suspicions or unparticularized hunches that a person has been or is engaged in criminal activity do not suffice to justify a detention,” Judge Michael McCormack wrote in the unanimous opinion.
The state, represented by Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, said the scent of marijuana constituted probable cause for the search. But the high court said the officer smelled the marijuana only after making what was an illegal stop.
Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley represented the juvenile defendant.
Neither office returned messages left on Friday.
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