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A Criminal Defense Law Firm

Update on the Drug-Sniffing Dog Ruling

Last week, I wrote a post on a court ruling regarding drug-dog usage during traffic stops. In a nutshell, it stated: “Police may not prolong a routine traffic stop to search for evidence of crimes unrelated to the purpose of the original stop.”

So to recap, the main issue is the extra seven or eight minutes it took for the second officer to arrive as well as the drug-sniffing dog. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.”

Justice Ginsburg stated that an officer’s mission during a routine traffic stop, other than issuing a ticket is to check for outstanding warrants and verify proof of registration and insurance. She said that police authority over the stop ends when the mission has been or reasonably should have been completed.

This recent ruling will not outlaw all K-9 interactions. The court has previously ruled that dog sniffs are constitutional, even without reasonable suspicion, as long as the police do not unreasonably lengthen the duration of the stop.

There is a controversial tactic that police around the country like to use. If an officer pulls over a driver for a routine traffic stop and “suspects” possible illegal activity, he will ask to search the vehicle. If the suspect refuses, the officer will then request a drug dog to sniff around the vehicle.

An article on this issue http://alerts.motorists.org/ says that there may be a catch to this practice. “Here’s how the scheme works: A police officer pulls over a driver for a routine traffic stop, becomes “suspicious” of possible illegal activity (usually drug related) and asks if he can search the vehicle. If the motorist refuses, the officer calls for a trained dog to sniff around the exterior of the vehicle. Invariably, the dog alerts to something, which gives the officer probable cause to search the vehicle. The problem, though, is that drug dogs are not very reliable and can be trained to alert to their master’s cue, even though no drugs are present.”

Civil forfeiture is nothing short of influential. In 2012, police in the United States seized a record $4.2 billion in civil forfeitures. The Rodriguez case will probably not put an end to this. Officers will most likely work around this ruling and request for a dog earlier in the stop than usual to keep the duration of the encounter to a “reasonable” level.

Whenever you are pulled over for a traffic stop and an officer asks to search your car, politely refuse. If he places a call for a drug-dog, politely object. Keep track of the time for the traffic stop to make sure the encounter is not “prolonged”. Always ask if you are being detained and if you are free to leave. Keep asking frequently until you are free to leave. It is important that you assert your rights through this process. It may not stop the officer from searching you, but it may protect you if the situation were to appear in court.

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