Are Dog Sniff Searches During Traffic Stops Lawful?
If you have ever been pulled over by law enforcement for no apparent reason, you may be wondering why you were stopped. Even without a warrant, police officers often conduct traffic stop searches based on a hunch or bias. As such, it is important to understand what law enforcement can and cannot do under the Fourth Amendment. The two cases below illustrate whether dog sniff searches are lawful during traffic stops.
People v. Ernesto Ayon
In People v. Ernesto Ayon, Ayon stated that police officers unlawfully dragged out his pretextual traffic stop in order to allow time for a drug-detecting dog to complete its sweep. He argued that this was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. After the trial court denied his motion to suppress evidence, Ayon pled guilty to five drug-related offenses.
In this case, Ayon had provided his license and registration in a timely manner, and the officer had informed Ayon that the reason for the stop was a bicycle lane infraction. After this, the officers asked if they could take a quick look in his car, and when Ayon denied consent, the officers arrested him, claiming that the arrest was necessary because Ayon was uncooperative. The officers then requested a drug-detecting dog, which found substantial amounts of narcotics and drug paraphernalia in Ayon’s car almost 20 minutes later.
However, the Sixth District Court of Appeals reversed his conviction. The appellate court ruled that the trial court erred in denying Ayon’s motion to suppress because the delay created by the officers to allow for the dog search was unreasonable. Under current law, a traffic stop begins at the moment an officer pulls over a vehicle and may not last any longer than necessary in order to effectuate the actual purposes of that stop. This means that any unnecessary delay caused by the police in the hopes of acquiring evidence of unrelated offenses constitutes a Fourth Amendment violation, and the resulting evidence must be suppressed.
United States v. Nault
The court in United States v. Nault, however, came to a different result under similar circumstances. Here, the appellate court ruled that the extended detention of a driver in a parking lot was lawful. When the officers asked Nault for his license and registration upon mistaking him for someone else, Nault appeared visibly intoxicated. Although Nault denied being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the officers conducted a search that revealed a marijuana pipe and brass knuckles, for which Nault was subsequently arrested. After his arrest, a dog sniff search further yielded a firearm and a large amount of methamphetamine.
Nault moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the dog search, arguing that the officers should have let him go once they learned that he was not the original guy they were looking for. However, the court ruled that asking for license and registration was still part of the officer’s mission in a traffic stop, and as such, any extension of the encounter for this purpose is lawful. Additionally, due to Nault’s intoxicated behavior, the detention was permissible.
Although this outcome is different from the one in Ayon, the results are not necessarily inconsistent with one another. In Ayon, the officers did not have any reasonable suspicion to justify an extended detention for the dog sniff search. In Nault, on the other hand, the suspect was visibly intoxicated, giving the officers reasonable suspicion to perform a dog sniff search. Ultimately, whether a dog sniff search is lawful depends on the specific circumstances of your case. Contact a criminal defense attorney today to discuss your case and see whether your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated.
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