Police searches and dog sniffs in drug crime investigations

Members of law enforcement have relied on the superior sense of smell that dogs possess to look for evidence of a potential crime. Dogs are frequently seen sitting along the line of people waiting to get checked in at major airports. The animals are likely trained to detect odors related to various forms of contraband, such as drugs, gun powder or other bomb-making materials. Outside of the airport, the rules for when a dog may be used to search for evidence vary greatly.

In drug cases, the issue of search and seizure Is always a vital concern for aggressive criminal defense lawyers.  Each case has its own set of facts, and seemingly small nuances in police conduct, the location of an alleged search and the reasonableness of the suspicion (if any) that police claim exists at the time of a search serves as the battleground for better defining the law and protecting the rights of all Americans.

Make no mistake, search and seizure issues and whether a warrant is required is not as cut-and dried as law enforcement and other authorities want you to believe. Each new set of facts need to be analyzed for potential violations of constitutional rights. Past appellate opinions handed down in Wisconsin appellate courts, as well as federal courts up to the U.S. Supreme Court provide strong guidance, but often leave room for further clarification.

So where does the law stand when it comes to the warrant requirement for conducting a search and the use of a K9 to detect a potential scent that may be unlawful contraband? The internet and legal libraries are full of lengthy legal treatises and law review articles that discuss past decisions handed down by higher courts. Each case turns on its own set of facts.

Traffic Stop K9-Sniff Decisions

Wisconsin courts agree with the U.S, Supreme Court that police may not extend the length of a traffic stop top conduct a dog sniff of the vehicle. In Rodriguez v. United States, the highest court in the nation rejected the prosecutor’s argument that the seven to eight extra minutes that it took to walk the dog around a car was insignificant and therefore did not violate the defendant’s constitutional rights.

The court held that extending the traffic stop was unreasonable and in violation of the driver’s constitutional rights. The ruling did not necessarily decide that a warrant is required to conduct a dog-sniff during a traffic stop, but shows that the reasonableness of the intrusion can be challenged. In that specific case the high court declined to determine whether the search was otherwise justified.

Dog-Sniffs On Private Property

The Supreme Court has been asked in many different ways when a warrant is required for police to enter and search a home. In 2013, the question before the court was whether police could bring a dog onto a person’s front porch without a warrant to obtain evidence using the dog’s olfactory sense to support a warrant in a marijuana crime investigation. The court, in a 5-4 split decision, held that the dog-sniff on the front porch was a search that required a warrant.

Obviously, two cases do not cover the full scope of potential issues that can arise. What is important to note is that strong defense arguments were necessary to help define the scope of the law in protecting constitutional rights. If you are facing drug charges involving any level of police search, it is important to have the unique facts analyzed by a qualified criminal defense lawyer.

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