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Drug Dogs and Automobile Searches

A canine sniff for drugs is not a "search" under the search and seizure provision of the Federal Constitution, however it is a "search" under the PA Constitution.

I have had numerous clients recently that have had their vehicles "searched" after a traffic stop. Most traffic stops based upon probable cause for a vehicle code violation are lawful. However, the continued roadside detention of the driver and passengers, can turn the stop into much more than simple traffic stop. Police may not search the vehicle automatically. Canine sniffs or drug dog searches are viewed as a search in Pennsylvania, but not under the Federal Constitution.

A canine sniff for drugs IS NOT a "search" under the search and seizure provision of the Federal Constitution. Use of a well-trained narcotics-detection dog, one that does not expose noncontraband items that otherwise would remain hidden from public view, during a lawful traffic stop generally does not implicate legitimate privacy interests protected by the Fourth Amendment. A dog sniff conducted during a lawful traffic stop that reveals no information other than location of contraband that no individual has any right to possess does not violate the Fourth Amendment. Police officers walking a narcotics-detection dog around the exterior of each car at city drug interdiction checkpoints does not transform the seizure into a search; an exterior sniff of an automobile does not require entry into the car and is not designed to disclose any information other than the presence or absence of narcotics, and a sniff by a dog that simply walks around a car is much less intrusive than a typical search.

However, under the Pennsylvania Constitution, a canine sniff IS a search. Yet, this type of search is not treated like other searches as it is inherently less intrusive upon an individual's privacy than other searches. Thus, there need not be probable cause to conduct a canine search of a place; rather, the police need merely have reasonable suspicion for believing that narcotics would be found in the place subject to the canine sniff. However, while reasonable suspicion is sufficient to conduct a canine sniff of a place, when the sniff is of a person, the police must have probable cause to believe that a canine search of a person will produce contraband or evidence of a crime. Thus, a warrantless canine sniff search may be deployed to test for the presence of narcotics in a place where:

  1. The police are able to articulate reasonable grounds for believing that drugs may be present in the place they seek to test; and
  2. The police are lawfully present in the place where the canine sniff is conducted.

If you have been subjected to a roadside drug dog sniff or search for narcotics, you may have grounds to have the evidence recovered suppressed or excluded from evidence against you in court. Further, many of these searches may be subject to a legal challenge. for other concerns about drug dog searches). You should contact an experienced federal and state drug crimes attorney immediately. You can contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC at (717) 268-4287.