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Drug Dog Sniffs and the Fourth Amendment


On April 21, 2015, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision that actually helps the common citizen who is pulled over by law enforcement. This decision tightens our Fourth Amendment rights to unwarranted and unlawful searches and seizures.

Drug Sniffs

Typically, police officers can legally pull over a vehicle when he or she possesses reasonable suspicion that a crime has been violated and/or the officer has probable cause to justify the stop and seizure of the automobile. From there, bringing a drug dog to sniff the vehicle for drugs is not considered a "search" in Fourth Amendment terms, however the duration or length of time that the driver has to wait for the dog can violate the driver's Fourth Amendment rights.

If the officer has reason to believe (see above) that there might be drugs in the car, he or she is legally allowed to bring in Fido, Rufus, Hank or [insert your best police dog name] to sniff the outside of the vehicle. If the K9 then alerts police that drugs were detected, this is probable cause to initiate a search of the automobile.

However, although drug sniffs are not a "search" under the Fourth Amendment (thus no suppression issue exists), the stop and seizure of the automobile can turn into a full blown illegal search and arrest if the time limit of the detention of the driver is unreasonable (making the driver wait an additional 30 minutes for the dog to arrive). In comes Rodriguez to tighten the ropes.

Rodriguez v. United States

This decision tightens the ropes of the Fourth Amendment, because the U.S. Supreme Court specifically stated that:

"[a]bsent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution's shield against unreasonable seizures."

This order simply adds a "check" or "balance" to law enforcement's authority when conducting searches of automobiles. This decision does not limit HOW to use of the dog, however does limit WHEN the dog can be used.

So what does this all mean to me?

This means that if law enforcement pulls over your vehicle, and the officer does not have any reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that drugs are in your car, the officer cannot use a drug sniff dog to further search—as an investigative tool—for drugs. The reasonable suspicion or probable cause has to exist prior to the stop and seizure, otherwise making the driver wait while the K9 unit arrives would be considered a violation of the Fourth Amendment. In short, the officer cannot pull you over for a broken tail light, and while having no reasonable suspicion or probable cause for drugs, then ask you to wait on the K9 unit to arrive to double check for drugs.

If you have been pulled over and arrested, and a drug dog was used during the stop, do not hesitate to give The Meranda Law Firm LTD a call. We are a team of experts in criminal defense, and we will work diligently to get your case resolved in the utmost amicable manner.