Jackson v. United States

Unopposed Motion of American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Illinois, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers for Leave to File a Brief as Amici Curiae in Support of Defendant-Appellant Prentiss Jackson and Reversal of the District Court’s Order

Brief filed: 10/18/2023


Jackson v. United States

7th Circuit Court of Appeals; Case No. 23-1708


Amici urge the Court to hold that the odor of raw cannabis—the possession and use of which is often legal under state law—does not alone provide a legally sufficient basis for police officers to search a vehicle pursuant to the motor vehicle exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. Such vehicle searches, typically following pretextual traffic stops, disproportionately burden Black and Latino drivers, who are likewise targeted for disparate enforcement of cannabis laws. The better policy, which will begin to remedy a long history and ongoing pattern of racially discriminatory law enforcement, is to not allow officers to utilize what may be lawful behavior as an excuse to detain and search drivers—a disproportionate number of whom inevitably will be drivers of color. Statistics show that police disproportionately target Black and Latino people for enforcement of cannabis laws, both in Illinois and throughout the United States. Data further establish that police in Urbana (where Defendant-Appellant Prentiss Jackson was stopped while driving), in Illinois, and nationwide, pull over and search Black and Latino motorists at disproportionately high rates. Pretextual traffic stops—those conducted for investigatory purposes and not for roadway safety—are a primary policing tool that drives these racial and ethnic disparities. The alleged odor of cannabis is one of the most common pretexts that police use for stopping and searching drivers, especially drivers of color. This is true despite the fact that white people and people of color tend to use and possess cannabis at similar rates. Giving officers carte blanche to perform warrantless vehicle searches based only on the alleged odor of cannabis will judicially sanction the unacceptable racial and ethnic disparities among the drivers whom police officers stop and search. When police can conduct warrantless searches based on the alleged, unverifiable odor of cannabis without anything more, history and experience show that police will use that authority to disproportionately target and harm Black and Latino drivers. In a state such as Illinois, where possession of certain amounts of cannabis is legally permitted, police must not be able to conduct a search or seizure based upon the odor of cannabis alone. Amici urge this Court to reverse the District Court’s denial of Mr. Jackson’s motion to suppress.


Alexandra K. Block, ACLU, Chicago, IL; Jonathan M. Brayman, IACDL, Chicago, IL; Clifford Berlow, NACDL, Chicago, IL; Julian Clark, ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project, New York, NY.

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