“Nosy” Drug Dogs and Your Rights

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects an individual’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. This right exists across the nation, and Weddington, North Carolina is no except to this. One of the search and seizure methods used by law enforcement in the United States that often violates the Fourth Amendment is the use of drug detection dogs.

Drug Dog Searches

It has become a normal practice in the United States that law enforcement officials often use drug dogs to conduct searches and sniff out contraband and drugs. Under normal circumstances, the law requires an officer to have probable cause in order to lawfully search a person’s belongings including their house or vehicle. When probable cause does not yet exist, law enforcement officers often use drug dogs to provide the probable cause necessary for a search and seizure. When a Weddington law enforcement officer violates a person’s Fourth Amendment rights from unreasonable government searches and seizures through use of a drug dog, a motion to suppress whatever evidence is discovered by the officers through the violation should be filed with the court presiding over the criminal matter. If police violate a person’s Fourth Amendment rights with a drug dog, a motion to suppress whatever evidence they discovered through the violation should be filed and that evidence should be subsequently inadmissible.

Searches and Consent

North Carolina police officers must have reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation in order to pull a citizen over. Beyond this, if a police officer wants to search the vehicle, he or she needs probable cause that the individual committed some other violation of law beyond the traffic violation. Therefore, unless a Weddington law enforcement officer has probable cause, he or she needs your permission to search your vehicle or have a drug dog sniff the outside of your vehicle.

If an officer asks you for permission to do either, then that means he or she does not already have probable cause and needs your consent in order to not violate your Fourth Amendment rights. Unfortunately, many citizens do not know that it is well within their rights to refuse to consent for a Weddington police officer to search their belongings. Should you consent and say yes to the search, the officer can lawfully search your vehicle and/or use a drug dog.

Limits on the Use of Drug Dogs

Over the years, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has rendered decisions that place certain limits on how law enforcement officers across the country can use drug dogs for searches and seizures.

  • Airport luggage: in United States v. Place allowing a drug dog to sniff a piece of luggage at the airport is not considered a “search” under the Fourth Amendment and, as a result, law enforcement does not need probable cause or a warrant to allow a dog to sniff luggage.
  • Traffic stops: unless law enforcement officers have reasonable suspicion of a crime, it is a violation of the Constitution to extend a legal traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff, according to Rodriguez v. United States. Under Florida v. Harris just because a drug dog is not trained to detect the particular substance that was found, but alerted officers anyway, is not enough to dismiss the animal’s reliability or the probable cause for the search and seizure. Also under Harris, if a drug dog is certified this is sufficient to create a presumption that the animal provided probable cause.
  • Residential homes: Florida v. Jardines requires that an officer have probable cause in order to bring a drug dog up on someone’s porch and his or her front door because homes have a heightened protection against unreasonable searches and seizures under the law.

There are often several issues that arise when drug dogs are used in criminal cases. These include lack of uniformity with regard to training the animals, as the dogs are not trained to alert all types of substances; and inaccuracy of drug dog results due to dog handler’s leading behavior, racial profiling, and the animal’s tendency to want to please its handler. Notwithstanding, North Carolina’s federal appeals court - the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit - has accepted evidence from dogs with a 43% success rate.

Criminal Defense Help in Weddington

Sometimes interactions with law enforcement officers can be dynamic and overwhelming. Know your rights under state and federal law so that you can protect your interests. The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC can aggressively argue the available affirmative defenses for your case to put you in the best legal position possible. Contact us to schedule your initial case evaluation at our new office in downtown Monroe or one of our other offices conveniently located in Charlotte or Mooresville.