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  • Is a Drug Dog Vehicle Search Legal?

    Posted on by JACK MKHITARIAN

    drug possession arrestHave you ever driven down the road and witnessed a vehicle pulled over by law enforcement and a drug dog sniffing the perimeter?

    You assume that your Fourth Amendment rights protect you. Therefore, that officer must have had a warrant to search the car for drugs. However, the area of the legality of drug dog searches is widely misunderstood. And if you anticipate your Constitutional rights protect you in these situations, you would be wrong.

    The Fourth Amendment does protect you from unreasonable searches and seizures. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has stated that drug dog sniff inspections, as long as they are completed within a regular traffic stop, is not a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights and you do not have an expectation of privacy.

    While law enforcement has the go-ahead to use a drug-sniffing dog, there are limitations to this ruling and not all searches are considered legal. If you suspect that a drug dog search of your vehicle was illegal, you may be able to use that as part of your defense. Speak with a criminal defense attorney first by contacting New Mexico Criminal Law Offices. Our team will explore law enforcement’s use of a drug-sniffing canine and determine if it was a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.

    When Do Albuquerque Police Use Drug Dog Searches?

    Law enforcement has specially trained canines that they use to locate narcotics in a vehicle, house, or other property. Some dogs are trained only to sniff out specific substances, such as cocaine.

    An officer may bring out a dog to help them find the drugs that they would be unable to seize due to Fourth Amendment protections. Typically, officers must obtain a warrant to search and seize drugs, but they can skirt around this requirement by using a dog.

    When the dog barks and indicates drugs on the premises, law enforcement can then seek out a warrant to seize the illegal substances.

    This entire process does not violate your Fourth Amendment rights, and officers can locate key evidence against you at a single traffic stop.

    Understanding the Rules Regarding When and How a Drug-Sniffing Dog Can Be Used

    While law enforcement can skip around Fourth Amendment protections and seek out drugs using a trained canine, the courts are specific on how and when that applies.

    In the case of Illinois v. Caballes, the defendant was stopped for speeding by law enforcement. The defendant was later arrested for marijuana trafficking because officers used a drug-sniffing dog at the scene who alerted them to the presence of the illegal substance.

    Initially, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the conviction, stating that law enforcement had no evidence of a drug crime; instead, the defendant was merely under suspicion of speeding.

    The case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, who then overruled the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision. Because decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court govern case law, this decision was monumental because it now allows law enforcement to use these dogs.

    In this instance, the Supreme Court stated that the police did not need reasonable suspicion to bring out a drug dog as long as they had legitimate cause for the traffic stop. In this case, the defendant was speeding; therefore, giving law enforcement the right to stop the vehicle.

    Once the dog had indicated drugs were in the vehicle, it then gave officers probable cause to search the car and find the marijuana.

    Rules to Using Canines

    Yes, law enforcement could stop you and bring out a dog to look for drugs. However, they cannot do so without cause.

    Law enforcement must prove that they had reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, and that crime was the reason for your traffic stop.

    Likewise, the amount of time of the stop matters. The officer cannot delay your traffic stop by having a canine search the exterior of the vehicle. Instead, officers can only have the dog check the vehicle in the time it takes to complete an ordinary traffic stop. This would include the time it takes to check your vehicle registration, driver’s license, and to write a ticket.

    If law enforcement forces you to wait for an unreasonable amount of time while a canine is dispatched to the scene, they may have violated the rules.

    That being said, if the officer has reasonable suspicion you are committing a crime during the traffic stop, then they can detain you while they wait for a canine to arrive at the scene. For example, you are stopped for speeding. However, you are acting nervous, weary, and continuing to look at your trunk as though you have something hiding in there.

    In this case, you have provided the officer with reasonable suspicion, and now they can detain you until a drug-sniffing canine arrives at the scene.

    When Officers Violate the Rule, the Evidence Is Out

    Law enforcement must be careful when using drug-sniffing dogs at traffic stops. If the court finds that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to justify delaying you or using the canine, then the evidence may be deemed part of an illegal search. That means the evidence, and anything obtained stemming from that evidence collection, would also be excluded.

    Did Law Enforcement Unlawfully Use a Drug Canine on Your Vehicle? You Have Rights

    If you have been arrested for drug possession or trafficking and law enforcement used a drug-sniffing canine without cause, you may have options for reducing your charges or having the case dismissed entirely. To mount a defense, you need a law firm that has experience handling these types of cases and the unique issue of Fourth Amendment rights violations.

    The attorneys at New Mexico Criminal Law Offices have handled many drug crime defenses, and we know what it takes to protect our client’s rights from unlawful search and seizure.

    Do not go through life with a drug conviction on your record. Instead, schedule a free case evaluation with our firm now by calling 505-200-2982. You can also request more information about our defense services online.