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Odor-Based Warrantless Searches Barred

Associated Press - March 29, 2014 11:30 am

A southern Kansas man has pleaded not guilty to charges that he sexually attacked a mother of four before fatally setting her on fire.

The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that a strong odor of alcohol from inside a motor vehicle isn’t enough to justify a search by law enforcement officers without a warrant.

The court ruled for a Sedgwick County man convicted of possessing methamphetamine discovered by officers who searched his SUV after smelling alcohol they suspected had spilled inside. A leaking bottle of wine was found in the back seat, out of the driver’s reach.

Kansas law allows open alcohol containers to be carried inside vehicles under some conditions, including placement in the back seat of vehicles like SUV’s that don’t have trunks.

The Supreme Court ruled Friday that the warrantless search was illegal. It reversed the man’s meth conviction and sent the case back for trial without the drug evidence.