In the criminal defense field, defendants always have questions and concerns regarding the legalities of open-air K-9 dog sniff searches. The truth of the matter is, K-9 dog sniff searches do take place, and often enough. Moreover, the validities surrounding these stops and searches are complex and ambiguous. The specifics of every individual traffic stop and dog sniff case are factually different. For this reason, it is imperative to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney for a better understanding of the law and how it pertains to your case.
Police K-9 Searches
K-9 dog sniff searches most often take place during a routine traffic stop. The legal standard for an officer’s right to pull a motorist over is vague. Essentially, law enforcement can stop a driver for almost any reason, so long as they have “good faith” or “a strong belief” that a motorist has committed a traffic violation. If later it is discovered that no traffic violation actually occurred, the police officer still had the right to make the stop.
However, if it is discovered that the officer stopped the motorist for invalid reasons, anything found in or around the vehicle is suppressed in court and cannot be used against the motorist. This is why a criminal defense lawyer will initially ignore the legitimacy of the dog sniff search, and first determine if the original traffic stop was valid to begin with.
When a defendant wants to prove the unconstitutionality of an open-air dog sniff search during a routine traffic stop, they must prove two facts in a court of law: 1) There was no reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct taking place that would have validated prolonging the primary reason for the stop, and 2) once the original reason for the stop was completed, they were detained for an unreasonable amount of time in order for law enforcement to carry out the open air k-9 search.
If an officer pulls a motorist over for a minor traffic violation, issues a ticket for the infraction, and completes the process for such a stop, they have no further reason to detain the person any longer unless they have reasonable suspicion that other crimes are afoot. For example, if the officer discovers a warrant for their arrest, or a suspended license, they have the right to take more time to investigate further.
But if the warrant check comes back clean and everything else is good, and the motorist is already issued a ticket for the original reason for the stop, law enforcement cannot detain the driver any longer. On the other hand, if a warrantless k-9 sniff is performed during the original stop, and before the officers’ duties of the stop are completed, the search and seizure procedures are NOT in violation of a motorists’ constitutional rights.
Talk to a criminal defense attorney for a complete understanding of your traffic stop and resulting criminal charges. You have a stronger chance at dismissing or reducing your charges with the help of a seasoned legal defense team.