Maybe you've seen it on TV, or maybe it's happened to you. The police bring out the K9s in order to sniff for drugs or other contraband.
Drug sniffs conducted by police dogs are one of many methods employed by law enforcement used to detect drugs. If you encounter a police officer during a traffic stop and he or she suspects that you may have drugs in the car, they may call in for a K9 unit to come and sniff the area.
The law of the land is that when a driver is stopped for a traffic violation (which is the reason why most people encounter cops) the officer may detain the occupants of the car no longer than the time it takes to write a citation.
However, if the officer suspects criminal activity, he or she may detain the occupants for a reasonable amount of time for the purpose of investigating.
Now police officers like to use their dogs as Plan B. Plan A is to always get the consent of the driver to search the car. If you give your consent, then all bets are off. The cops can tear your car apart and it will be upheld as valid.
However, if you tell the police that they cannot search your car, they may try to bring in the dogs. If the officer has a reason to suspect criminal activity, then this detention is likely going to be upheld.
But if the officer has no reason to suspect criminal activity, then the traffic stop could be deemed unconstitutional if it takes a long time for the dog to arrive. As I stated earlier, for a traffic stop, the officer can detain you for as long as it takes to write the citation.
When I refer to suspicion of criminal activity, most of the time - in the context of a traffic stop - it's the smell of marijuana.
However, if the officer plainly sees any drugs in the car, they may search without a warrant and without your consent. This is called the "plain view" exception.
A cop does not need probable cause or your consent to have a dog sniff around your car. You have no expectation of privacy on the outside of your car.
If the dog signals that it has found something, then the police have probable cause to search your vehicle. If they find contraband, they can arrest and charge you.
If arrested, you should contact a South Florida criminal defense attorney right away. Like many areas of search and seizure, a dog sniff can be challenged in court.
The reliability of the K9 must be strong in order for a drug sniff to be upheld. Police officers keep logs of the dog's performance in the field, indicating the correlation between the dog's singaling and the dog's successfully locating drugs. If a dog has not performed well in the field, or has mistakenly signaled when there was no contraband, then the court may throw out the dog sniff, thus invalidating your arrest.
The Law Offices of Eric M. Matheny, P.A. is a criminal defense law firm serving clients throughout Miami-Dade and Broward. Call today for a free assessment of your case.