Dog-Aided Searches

August 29, 2013 in 4th Amendment Rights, Citizen's Rights, Dog-Aided Search, Legal Information, Privacy Rights, Unwarranted Search

You’ve been pulled over for a valid traffic stop and the officer has requested a police dog to sniff your vehicle for possible illegal substances. What are your rights in this situation? Remember the Fourth Amendment guarantees in part, “the right of the people to be secure.. against unreasonable searches and seizures.. and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.” What does a police dog-sniff mean for your Constitutionally protected rights?

Where there has been a proper stop of a vehicle and a drug-trained dog is alerted, there may be probable cause to search the vehicle for drugs. (People v. Easley, 288 Ill. App. 3d 487 (1997)). “May” being the operative word in this situation, sometimes an officer will have probable cause to search your vehicle and sometimes they will not.

In regards to the search of a vehicle, a dog-sniff conducted during a concededly lawful traffic stop that reveals no information other than the location of a substance that no individual has any right to possess does not violate the Fourth Amendment.  (People v. Harris, 228 Ill. 2d 222 (2008)). In this situation, the police dog sensed an illegal substance in the defendants car, an illegal substance in which the defendant had no right to legally possess thereby giving the officer permission to search the vehicle without violating the defendants Fourth Amendment rights.

In regards to the search of an individual, a dog-sniffing detection of contraband in a stopped vehicle was sufficient to establish probable cause for the police officer to search the passenger for drugs. The dog’s detection of the odor of drugs was not different than if officer himself had smelled odor of drugs, and the officer was not required to have the dog sniff the individual passenger in order to support search. (People v. Neuberger, 355 Ill. Dec. 167 (2011)).

However, an important factor to bear in mind is the length of the stop and time lapse between when the officer requests for a police dog to when the dog actually arrives and the sniff detection occurs.

For example, an officer did not have a reasonable suspicion to prolong the traffic stop of the defendant in order to await arrival of K-9 unit, though the officer noticed that defendant’s vehicle smelled of air freshener and that defendant was nervous, where the bulk of the factors supporting the officer’s reasonable suspicion were known early in the stop, the officer only asked for a canine unit after he spent 13 minutes attempting to obtain the defendant’s consent to a search, and after the officer called the unit the dog did not arrive for another 25 minutes. (People v. McQuown, 407 Ill. App. 3d 1138 (2011)).

In another example, a dog-sniff test conducted during a traffic stop for not having a rear registration light was impermissible and occurred after an overly long detention, even though the police officer was writing the traffic ticket when the dog arrived about fifteen minutes after the stop. If the officer had expeditiously issued a ticket or warning, the driver would have left the scene prior to the arrival of the canine unit. In this situation, the officer did not smell marijuana in the vehicle or see any object justifying suspicion of possession of controlled substance, and he lacked specific and articulable facts to warrant an extended detention and the dog-sniff test. (People v. Cox, 202 Ill. 2d 464 (2002)).

In conclusion, an officer may have probable cause to search your vehicle if a trained police dog has been alerted of illegal substances within the vehicle. However, keep in mind that a police officer generally can not detain you for an unreasonable about of time to wait for the arrival of a police dog unless the officer has reasonable suspicion and can point to specific and articulable facts to warrant an extended detention and the dog-sniff test. (Cox, McQuown).

(1) People v. Easley, 288 Ill. App. 3d 487 (1997)
(2) People v. Harris, 228 Ill. 2d 222 (2008)
(3) People v. Neuberger, 355 Ill. Dec. 167 (2011)
(4) People v. Cox, 202 Ill. 2d 464 (2002)