U.S. Supreme Court: Drug Sniffing Dogs Require Search Warrant

This past week, the United States Supreme Court ruled that police officers who delay the conclusion of a traffic stop while they wait for a law enforcement canine to sniff for drugs (a process riddled with inaccuracy, as we will explore in this post) violate the Constitution by doing so.
Our West Palm Beach and Plantation criminal defense lawyers know that back in 2005, the Court ruled in Illinois v. Caballes that police could conduct a canine drug sniff during a traffic stop without violating the driver’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Too often, routine routine traffic stops have been turning into drug busts.

With Rodriguez v. United States, the Supreme Court has clarified their understanding of the Constitutional law at play here; their ruling has given another protection to American citizens by making it harder for law enforcement officers to turn a traffic stop into a narcotics arrest.

Before we get into the specifics of the case, let’s address an important, relevant issue: the accuracy of drug sniffing dogs. If a police dog alerts law enforcement officers to the (supposed) presence of drugs on a suspect or in/on a suspect’s property (their house, car, backpack, etc.), police generally have free range to conduct an invasive search of the suspect’s property.

With that kind of power, as our West Palm Beach and Plantation criminal defense lawyers know, you’d think police dogs are incredibly accurate in their so-called detection of drugs. Studies around the country have been casting doubt on this belief, including one from 2011 by the Chicago Tribune which revealed that only 44% (less than half) of all drug presence alert by police dogs during traffic stops actually led to a discovery of drugs or drug paraphernalia, meaning that more than half the time, it appears the police dogs were wrong.

Each year, based on a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2008, roughly 7% of U.S. residents age 16 and older had contact with a police officer during a traffic stop. In other words, every year, millions of people are pulled over by law enforcement officers for speeding, or running a red light, or failing to stop at a stop sign, etc. All of these stops are potentially more than they might appear to be; to a police officer, each stop is a possible drug bust. When police ask for your Driver’s License, insurance, registration, etc., they’re analyzing your breath, your eyes, and your speech, to detect any signs of intoxication or drug use. If they suspect something, they can ask you to step out of the car and perform a sobriety test. And, according to Illinois v. Caballes, they’re allowed to have a drug-sniffing dog inspect you, too.

Our West Palm Beach and Plantation criminal defense lawyers know that we live in a country in which laws are designed to protect the people. Despite the fact that someone walking down the street (or driving down the street) might potentially have illegal substances in their possession, police officers can’t simply illegally detain and thoroughly search anyone they think is suspicious — they have to be justified in doing so. And, as we noted above, the Supreme Court just clarified what justifies a search and under what circumstances someone pulled-over for a traffic stop can have their person and property examined by a drug-sniffing police dog.

If you’re pulled over for a traffic stop, and police have gone through the standard procedure, issued you a ticket (or decided not to), and concluded all of the normal steps of a traffic stop, they now officially cannot delay sending you on your way while they wait for a drug sniffing dog to do its work. In this case, because the police officer made the individual who was pulled over wait for seven-eight additional minutes, he violated the Constitution.

Keeping up with Supreme Court rulings can mean the difference between allowing police to violate your Constitutional rights and knowing better, which is why we want to keep as many people as possible informed of these types of legal developments. If you’ve been detained by police officers and you feel your rights were violated, or if you’ve been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade County, please contact our West Palm Beach and Plantation criminal defense lawyers by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363) to schedule a free consultation. We look forward to assisting you.

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