Police Canine Sniffs During Traffic Stops

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 What is a Canine Sniff Test?

If an officer pulls you over for a petty traffic offense, finally gives you your ticket, then has you remain for a trained drug dog to sniff your automobile, is it lawful?

In Rodriguez v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, unless they have reasonable suspicion of criminality, the law enforcement officers can’t prolong a traffic stop in order to perform a dog sniff. Otherwise, police are typically allowed to use dogs to sniff automobiles during traffic stops.

A canine sniff test, or police dog sniff test, is where the police use a conditioned police dog to scour for proof of a crime. Usually, the police dog will be sniffing for drugs during a police search, as the animals can skillfully be trained to recognize different illegal drugs.

When Are Canine Sniff Tests Generally Used?

Canine sniff tests are generally used where the police need to discover evidence but cannot open an individual’s items due to privacy privileges. For instance, canines may frequently be seen at airports, sniffing at passengers’ luggage who may be questioned about smuggling drugs. Alternatively, police dogs may be used to sniff a person’s garments to find drugs. Sniff tests are also standard during police traffic stops.

Can the Police Legally Use a Dog Sniff Test During a Traffic Stop?

Yes. Police officers may use a trained dog to sniff the outside of an automobile for narcotics during a regular traffic stop. Nevertheless, the police must observe specific regulations to sidestep violating the person’s 4th Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.

If you are being pulled over for a traffic stop, recall that the police must abide by the subsequent procedures if they are using a canine to sniff your automobile:

  • Reasonable Suspicion: The police need reasonable suspicion to originally pull you over. However, they do not need probable cause or reasonable suspicion to use a canine to sniff your automobile in search of narcotics. For instance, the police may pull you over for a busted taillight and then proceed to have the canine sniff your automobile.
  • Length of Time of the Dog Sniff Test: The canine sniff test cannot surpass the length of the routine traffic stop. If, for example, the dog continues to sniff beyond the time needed to finish the traffic check, then the search has become prohibited.
  • Delays Are Not Allowed: Police may not slow traffic to perform a canine sniff. For instance, if the police have to linger around while a police dog comes, then the process has become prohibited.

Sniffing Everywhere

On March 27, 2012, a Nebraska officer saw a Mercury Mountaineer veer gradually onto the shoulder of a roadway for one or two seconds and then jump back onto the road. Understanding shoulder-driving to be forbidden, Officer Struble of the Valley Police Department pulled over the SUV.

Officer Struble happened to be a K-9 officer and had his dog Floyd riding along. Struble approached the motorist and had the standard license/registration/proof-of-insurance conversation with motorist Dennys Rodriguez. The officer assembled the paperwork and requested Rodriguez to come with him to the patrol car. Rodriguez asked if he had to, was told he didn’t, and chose to stay in his automobile with his passenger, a man by the name of Pollman.

Struble conducted a records scan on Rodriguez, then walked back to the SUV and started talking to Pollman. He asked Pollman for his driver’s license and questioned him about what the two men were doing. The two men explained that they were returning to Norfolk after journeying to look at a for-sale car.

Struble ran other records checks, this time on Pollman. The officer signaled for a second officer and started writing Rodriguez a warning ticket for the driving offense. He closed in upon the vehicle for the third time. He gave and presented the warning to Rodriguez and produced each man’s papers. About 20 minutes had gone by since the initial stop.

This case made it to the highest court because Officer Struble asked for and was refused consent to walk Floyd around the SUV. The officer told Rodriguez to turn off the car, leave it, and stand in front of the patrol car to wait for the other officer to arrive. Rodriguez conceded and waited until the second officer arrived. Then, the officer grasped Floyd and led him twice around the SUV. Floyd indicated that the car held drugs during the second trip around the car. At this moment, seven or eight minutes had gone by from the moment Struble administered the warning ticket. The police then probed and found a large bag of methamphetamine in the car.

The Question of During or After

The question for the Supreme Court was whether the canine sniff was permitted. If not, the methamphetamine—and the drug claim against Rodriguez—would have to be discarded.
Here’s what the Court stated, by a six-to-three vote.

Police canine sniffs during permitted traffic stops are lawful under the Fourth Amendment to the federal constitution, though state constitutions might say otherwise.

An officer who doesn’t have reasonable suspicion may not prolong a traffic stop to perform a canine sniff. The officer who pulls a motorist over may not extend the confinement “beyond the time reasonably required to complete” the stop’s “mission.”

An officer’s traffic-stop task reasonably incorporates duties like inspecting the driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance, and conducting a warrant review. But a canine sniff isn’t an element of an officer’s traffic-stop duties. Once duties connected to the traffic violation are or should be done, the detention must finish. The main issue isn’t whether the canine sniff occurs before or after the ticket had been given—it’s whether the sniff causes the stop to take any longer than it normally would.

The Supreme Court sent Rodriguez’s case back down to a lower court to decide whether Officer Struble reasonably inferred illegal action that would explain the elongated detention. But the facts as recounted by the Court indicated that he didn’t. In that circumstance, the sniff would have been prohibited, and the methamphetamine would be inadmissible in court.

Correspondingly, in any case where the police unnecessarily carry out a roadside detention to bring the K-9, any turned-up evidence will generally be no good. The Fourth Amendment’s search and seizure laws provide more background information.

What Happens to Evidence That Was Illegally Acquired Using a Dog Sniff?

Evidence obtained illegally during a traffic stop cannot be used in court. The evidence will be “excluded” from evidence if the police found it using a police dog but disregarded your rights in the process.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

You may want to contact a lawyer if you have been pulled over and then subjected to a police canine sniff investigation during the traffic stop. Your drug lawyer can help decide whether evidence obtained during a dog sniff test can be used in court against you.

Use LegalMatch to find a criminal or drug lawyer in your area today. Schedule a free consultation today once you’ve found the right attorney for your needs. There is no fee for an initial meeting with a lawyer, and LegalMatch is completely confidential.

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