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DRUG DOGS AND TRAFFIC STOPS

A traffic stop can put fear in the average driver for a variety of reasons. At first, it may be unclear why an officer pulled you over. Were you speeding or swerving in and out of lanes? Did you miss a turn signal or stop sign? Is one of your taillights out? As we all know, even a minor infraction like a blinking light can warrant a traffic stop and from there, you are at the mercy of the officer who pulled you over.

One of the many problems people have with traffic stops, especially stops for suspicion of drunk or drugged drinking, is the use of drug-sniffing dogs during the stop. If a police officer pulls you over because he suspects that you've been drinking, he may ask you to perform field sobriety tests, like walking in a straight line or reciting the alphabet backwards, to prove that you are sober.

While the results of these tests and your performance on them can be used against you if the police officer decides to press charges, you are still protected by your right to refuse to submit to them.

However, the presence of a drug-sniffing dog may complicate your traffic stop. If an officer suspects that you have been using drugs, he may ask to walk the dog around your vehicle. Again, you can refuse but your refusal does not stop the dog from using his nose.

If the dog reacts to the presence of drugs, even if you have refused to allow the officer to walk him near the car, you could find yourself in custody for possession, driving under the influence and other drug-related charges. The drugs detected by the dog could be protected under the umbrella of your right to privacy in your own home and vehicle, but the dog's reaction could create probable cause for your arrest.

Now, though, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the use of drug dogs must be limited in routine traffic stops to prevent situations like the above hypothetical scenario from happening.

The Court ruled that the use of a drug dog, which extends the length of the traffic stop beyond the reasonable timeframe for the stop's original intent - ticket, speeding violation, traffic violation, etc.- is in violation of a person's right to privacy and protection from unreasonable search and seizure as set forth under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Dennys Rodriguez

In 2012, Dennys Rodriguez was pulled over in Nebraska after Officer Struble saw him driving on the shoulder of a highway. Officer Struble had a drug-sniffing dog in his car at the time of the stop. After the officer issued a citation to Rodriguez, he asked if the dog could patrol the vehicle.

Rodriguez said no, but Officer Struble then ordered him to get out of the car and called for a second officer. When that officer arrived, Struble walked the dog around the car and the dog alerted him to the presence of drugs. The officers uncovered a large bag of methamphetamine.

The issue at hand in Rodriguez's detention had to do with the seven to eight minutes that passed between the time Struble issued the citation and the time the dog smelled the drugs. That timeframe made the traffic stop unreasonable, according to the Supreme Court's ruling, and thus made the dog's patrol around the car a violation of Rodriguez's protection against unreasonable search and seizures.

At Rehmeyer and Allat, Attorneys at Law, we represent anyone who has been searched in violation of his or her Fourth Amendment rights. For more information, contact a State College criminal defense lawyer at our firm today.

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