Drug Dogs and Car Searches

Imagine this scenario:

You get pulled over for a minor traffic violation. The officer, on approaching your vehicle, tells you that he suspects you may have drugs in the car and he’s detaining you until a K9 unit can come and do an inspection of the outside of your car. Once the dog smells around your car it “indicates” (either by barking or sitting) the presence of drugs, and the police officers use that as probable cause to search your vehicle.

Let’s say the search doesn’t turn up anything. Great, you should be free to go. Consider your self lucky – other people have had it far, far worse.

Let’s say instead the search doesn’t turn up any drugs, but the police do find the loaded pistol you keep in the center console, and you don’t have a concealed carry permit for it. Not good, right?

Drug-sniffing dogs aren’t as accurate as people think:

An investigation by the Chicago Tribune showed that drug dogs were accurate only 44% of the time. That means that the dogs incorrectly “indicated” the presence of drugs in over half of the searches.

You’re right – that doesn’t make sense. But because of the a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2013, the police are still able to say that it does.

Florida v. Harris – The U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision on Drug Dogs:

The U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Florida v. Harris lets police officers base probable cause on a drug dog’s actions, no matter how many times that dog has gotten it wrong, as long as the dog has completed some type of training course. This decision overturned the Florida Supreme Court’s decision that put the burden on the police to present the dog’s “error rate” in order to justify a search if the evidence was to be presented in court.

See the problem? Basically the U.S. Supreme Court has said that a 56% error rate is fine, as long as the dog has gone through a training course. There are no standards for training courses for drug dogs.

Drug Dog Searches Can Still be Challenged:

If you have been accused of a crime because of a drug dog search, that doesn’t mean you can’t challenge the search in court. You can still ask the court to exclude the evidence (as long as it’s not drugs the dog was trained to detect,) by showing the dog’s history of false-positives and faulty training.

Bottom line: if you’ve been accused of a crime following a search by a drug dog, talk to an attorney about what your options are. Better yet, call us for a free, no obligation consultation.