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Police Canine Sniffs During Traffic Stops

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What Is a Canine Sniff Test?

A canine sniff test, or police dog sniff test, is where the police use a trained police dog to search for evidence of a crime. Usually the police dog will be sniffing for drugs during a police search, as the animals can easily be trained to identify various illegal drugs.

When Are Canine Sniff Tests Usually Used?

Canine sniff tests are commonly used where the police need to locate evidence, but cannot open a person’s belongings due to privacy rights. For example, canines may often be seen at airports, sniffing at the luggage of passengers who may be suspected of smuggling drugs. Alternatively, police dogs may be used to sniff the clothes of a person to locate drugs. Sniff tests are also common during police traffic stops.

Can the Police Lawfully Use a Dog Sniff Test during a Traffic Stop?

Yes. Police officers may use a trained dog to sniff the outside of a car for drugs during a routine traffic stop. However, the police must follow certain rules to avoid violating the person’s 4th Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.

If you are being pulled over for a traffic stop, remember that the police must abide by the following guidelines if they are using a canine to sniff your car:

  • Reasonable Suspicion: The police need reasonable suspicion to initially pull you over. However they do not need probable cause or reasonable suspicion to use a canine to sniff your car in search of drugs. For example, the police may pull you over for a broken taillight, and then proceed to have the canine sniff your car.
  • Length of Time of the Dog Sniff Test: The canine sniff test cannot exceed the length of the regular traffic stop. If, for instance, the dog continues to sniff past the time needed to complete the traffic check, then the search has become illegal.
  • Delays Are Not Allowed: Police may not delay traffic to conduct a canine sniff. For example, if the police have to wait around while a police dog arrives, then the process has become illegal.

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

Evidence that has been obtained in an illegal manner during a traffic stop cannot be used in court. The evidence will be "excluded" from evidence if the police secured it using a police dog but violated your rights in the process.

Do I need a Lawyer?

You may wish to contact a lawyer if you have been pulled over and then subjected to a police dog sniff examination during the traffic stop. Your criminal attorney can help determine whether evidence that is obtained during a dog sniff test can be used in court against you.

Photo of page author Matthew Izzi

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 04-23-2018 11:03 PM PDT

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