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Defending the Arrest Made Using a Drug Dog

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Drug dog sniffs are not automatically a reliable means to establish probable cause

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Drug Defense Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

As pointed out in a prior article about canine searches during roadside stops for traffic tickets, drug dogs or K-9's are used by police in many roadside situations.  The K-9's are used to determine if drugs, narcotics, explosives or other illegal or harmful instrumentalities are present.  Police do not require probable cause to conduct a K-9 sniff in PA.  However, they do need a reasonable suspicion.  (See this link to our main site for an explanation of the differences between probable cause and reasonable suspicion).

Many judges rely all too easily on the testimony of a trained K-9 "handler."  Some courts blindly accept the testimony that an affidavit from a "handler" that the K-9 is "trained" or "certified."  Or, even that the K-9 "alerted" to a specific target.  All these ambiguities in the handlers language leave much to be desired when considering the possible intrusions into one's U.S. 4th Amendment Rights and PA Constitution Article 1, Section 9 Rights to searches and seizures.

Here are some possible problems with such testimony:

1) Many handlers provide their dogs with a "reward" for proper alerting to a situation.  So these rewards take some of the dog's objective "alerts" away?

2) Many handlers record "positive alerts" by their K-9's but do not record "false alerts."  This undermines the credibility of the animal's effectiveness.

3) How can a dog differentiate between a current odor or a "residual" or "trace odor" from another source.  Can a dog tell you if the odor is from someone else with narcotics touching the suspect's car door handle?

4) Dog certifications may be in violation of the confrontation clause if the person providing the training are not present at trial to testify. 

5) Dogs may respond to intentional or unintentional "cues" from their handlers.

If you've been stopped for a traffic ticket or your person has been searched because a K-9 alerted to your vehicle/person, you may have a valid basis to suppress the investigatory search, detention and ultimate arrest.  You should speak to qualified drug defense counsel immediately to discuss your options and possible outcomes.  You may call Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.

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