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Probable Cause is Required to Conduct a Canine Sniff of a Person In Pennsylvania

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A drug dog sniff of person requires probable cause, more than just reasonable suspicion.

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By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Criminal Defense Lawyer, Harrisburg, PA

A canine sniff test by a trained drug detection dog does not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment, although it does constitute a search under article I, section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has permitted police to conduct a canine sniff search of a place without obtaining a search warrant.  The court held further that because the nature of sniff searching a place is so minimally intrusive upon a person's privacy expectations, a warrantless sniff search of a place is "reasonable" under the Pennsylvania Constitution if based upon "reasonable suspicion" that the place contains illegal contraband and the police are lawfully present in the place where the canine performs the sniff search.  

In Commonwealth v. Martin, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined to extend the reasonable suspicion standard for sniff searching a place to a warrantless sniff search of a satchel that a suspect carried when the police stopped him. The court held that the police needed probable cause, a greater burden than reasonable suspicion, to believe that a canine sniff search of defendant William R. Martin's satchel would indicate the presence of illegal drugs.  The court required this higher standard because it considered the sniff search of Martin's satchel to be a sniff search of Martin's person, thus implicating heightened constitutional protection.  

A Drug Dog Sniff of a car does not require probable cause in Pennsylvania 

A canine sniff of the air surrounding a car reasonably suspected of containing contraband is less an invasion of the Appellee's privacy interest in his vehicle than is the brief investigatory detention and weapons pat-down of an individual who the police reasonably suspect of engaging in criminal activity, a police practice that is permitted under both the federal and the state constitutions.  Com. v. Rogers, 1999 PA Super 287, ¶ 17, 741 A.2d 813, 819 (1999) aff'd, 578 Pa. 127, 849 A.2d 1185 (2004). 

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