According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the ad hoc use of a well-trained narcotics-detection dog during an otherwise lawfully conducted police encounter does not infringe on a suspect's constitutionally protected rights. When a police dog "alerts" during such an encounter, it is enough to establish probable cause, the legal standard of suspicion that allows officers to conduct a warrantless vehicle search.
But are the authorities exploiting the liberal rules regarding drug-dog searches to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the law? Based on the results of one recent audit of an Illinois State Police K-9 unit, it may be time to revisit the use of dog sniff-searches in law enforcement.
Only a Quarter of Dog Alerts Led To Drug Arrests
Over the 11-month period reviewed, the Illinois canine unit in question conducted 252 "sniffs." Of these, 136 resulted in "alerts" indicating the presence of narcotics.
Yet, out of all these alerts, only 35 turned up a large enough quantity of drugs to call for a drug possession arrest. Following 38 of the sniffs, subsequent searches revealed no drugs at all, while in 63 instances officers reportedly found "drug residue," trace amounts of narcotics not large enough to merit arrest or typically to even confirm the residue as an illegal substance through laboratory testing.
According to a K-9 trainer interviewed by the Huffington Post, although police dogs can be conditioned to alert only when there is a significant quantity of drugs in the area, most departments are more interested in dogs with a sensitive nose. Rather than desiring to only locate amounts of drugs that would permit an arrest, the trainer indicated, law enforcement authorities are instead seeking to cloak themselves with the legal authority to conduct more general searches for contraband as often as possible.
Rights Violated In a Drug-Dog Search? A Criminal Defense Attorney Can Get Bad Evidence Thrown Out
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects all Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures; generally, this means the police must first gather evidence and convince a judge to sign off on a warrant before conducting a search. However, a series of loopholes are allowing officers to skirt the warrant requirement using drug dogs.
What does this mean if you are facing drug charges or any criminal accusations based on a search conducted after a drug dog sniff? Evidence obtained through an illegal search is inadmissible against the party whose rights were violated, and the results of the drug-dog audit in Illinois seriously call into question the use of K-9 sniffs in routine police encounters. Officers may be overstepping their legal authority, and if they have, it could save you from a drug offense conviction. If you have been charged based on evidence gathered in a police search, contact a criminal defense attorney today to learn more about suppressing anything gathered in violation of your rights.