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Medical marijuana money and purses without probable cause

A courier drops off a package at the Supreme Court

The Petitions of the Week column highlights a selection of cert petitions recently filed in the Supreme Court. A list of all petitions we’re watching is available here.

Can a police officer rummage through your purse if they find you in someone else’s home that they have a warrant to search? And if your purse contains suspicious amounts of allegedly state-licensed medical marijuana, can federal authorities prosecute you for possession of a controlled substance? This week we highlight petitions asking the Supreme Court to consider, among other things, similar issues in two very different drug-related prosecutions.

Police in Mobile, Alabama, obtained a warrant to search a home, its owner, and a long list of objects (not including purses) because the home’s owner sold methamphetamine to a confidential informant. Upon arriving at the home, police found Nancy Powers asleep on the living room couch and the home’s owner and others asleep in various bedrooms. An officer noticed a purse beside the couch and, after confirming it belonged to Powers, searched it and found a bag containing $800 of powdered meth and a scale. Powers was arrested and convicted of intent to distribute and possession of meth. In Powers v. Alabama, she asks the court to decide whether, because neither she as an individual nor purses as an object were listed in the warrant, the officer’s search of her purse lacked probable cause and thus was “unreasonable” in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Since 2015 Congress has attached a rider to its appropriations bills barring the Department of Justice from using funds “to prevent [states] from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” Brian Bilodeau ran a series of marijuana grow-sites in Maine, which has a legal medical marijuana industry. After an extensive two-year investigation, federal narcotics officers entered Bilodeau’s sites, took samples of evidence they claimed was indicative of a black-market drug operation, destroyed the rest of the supply, and charged Bilodeau with knowing and intentional manufacture and possession of marijuana. In Bilodeau v. United States, the question for the court is whether Bilodeau’s subsequent prosecution by DOJ qualifies as the type of prosecution Congress intended to prohibit via the appropriations rider.

These and other petitions of the week are below:

Arizona v. Navajo Nation
Issues: (1) Whether the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, allowing the Navajo Nation to proceed with a claim to enjoin the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior to develop a plan to meet the Navajo Nation’s water needs and manage the mainstream of the Colorado River in the Lower Basin so as not to interfere with that plan, infringes upon the Supreme Court’s retained and exclusive jurisdiction over the allocation of water from the LBCR mainstream in Arizona v. California; and (2) whether the Navajo Nation can state a cognizable claim for breach of trust consistent with the Supreme Court’s holding in United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation based solely on unquantified implied rights to water under the doctrine of Winters v. United States.

Powers v. Alabama
Issue: Whether the search of a purse in the possession of a visitor present at a residence during the execution of a premises warrant violates the Fourth Amendment.

Bilodeau v. United States
Issue: Whether and under what circumstances the rider to Congress’ 2019 appropriations bill – which provides that none of the funds made available to the Department of Justice may be used with respect to Maine and other states to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana – prohibits the DOJ from spending federal funds to prosecute criminal defendants for medical marijuana-related offenses.

City of Kent, Washington v. Jacobo-Hernandez
Issue: Whether the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment provides a livelihood preservation protection which can prevent the forfeiture of the instrumentality of a felony.

Recommended Citation: Kalvis Golde, Medical marijuana money and purses without probable cause, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 10, 2022, 6:06 PM),