Houston Criminal Defense Blog

When Is It Legal for Police to Use Drug Dogs?

To understand your rights during a traffic stop, specifically as they relate to drug dog searches, you have to go back to Illinois v. Caballes. In this 2004 Supreme Court case, the state of Illinois argued that the use of drug-sniffing dogs during traffic stops does not violate a person’s Fourth Amendment rights and also does not excessively or unreasonably lengthen the time of a traffic stop. The Supreme Court sided with the state of Illinois.

While drug dogs are lawful and can be used during a traffic stop or at a DUI checkpoint, there are still rules for how this is carried out. Primarily, the stop must be legitimate. In other words, law enforcement must have reasonable suspicion for stopping your vehicle.

A summary of the Supreme Court decision explained it this way,

The Fourth Amendment is not implicated when police use a dog sniff during the course of a legal traffic stop. Justice Stevens wrote the Opinion of the Court, finding that since dog sniffs only identify the presence of illegal items — in which citizens have no legitimate privacy interest — the Fourth Amendment does not apply to their use.

Essentially, drug dogs search for probable cause. Because police cannot lawfully conduct a search of someone’s vehicle during a traffic stop without probable cause, they use drug dogs to indicate whether there might be probable cause – aka drugs.

The duration of a traffic stop still matters. While having a drug dog sniff around the perimeter of your vehicle does not unreasonably extend how long the stop will take, calling in drug dogs if they are not already at the scene can. Many cases have been dismissed because law enforcement made a driver wait, unlawfully detained, until drug dogs could arrive at the scene.

Moreover, know that you are not required by law to consent to a search. If you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint or routine traffic stop, and the officer asks if they can search your vehicle or tells you that they are going to call drug dogs, you have every right to respectfully tell the officer that you do not give your consent to the search.

The officer needs reasonable suspicion to detain you, and if there is no reasonable suspicion until a drug dog arrives, the officer needs some other legitimate reason to keep you detained until a drug dog can arrive. If they do not have a reason, they must let you go, so be sure to ask the officer “Am I free to go?” or “Am I being detained?”

If you were arrested at a traffic stop, contact a Houston criminal defense attorney at Billy Skinner & Associates today for a free and confidential case evaluation.

Categories: Drug Crimes, DWI