If you’re pulled over for a traffic stop, like a speeding violation,
can police set a drug dog to sniff your car?
Thanks to a United States Supreme Court decision in 2005, the answer has
become a pretty solid “Yes”. Of course, the Fourth Amendment
protects you against “unreasonable searches and seizures”
meaning that searches usually require a warrant and that all warrants and
arrests must be backed by probable cause (the police must have a strong reason
for believing you are engaged in criminal activity). So how does the Fourth
Amendment fit into the 2005 ruling?
Well, the Supreme Court ruled in Illinois v. Caballes that if you’re
pulled over for a legitimate traffic violation, whether it’s speeding
or not wearing a seatbelt or running a red light, then that stop is lawful.
However, the police cannot prolong a traffic stop longer than it takes
to write up a ticket and send you on your way – this means that
they cannot needlessly hold you and wait for the K9 unit to arrive with
drug dogs. So as long as you do not consent to a search while remaining
calm and polite, the police cannot search your car for illegal drugs without
On the other hand, if you act suspicious enough or annoy the officer enough,
he or she may place you under arrest for the traffic violation, and have
your car impounded and searched. Additionally, if the officer happens
to have a drug dog on hand, the Supreme Court has decided that it is legal
for the dog to sniff your car once you’ve been pulled over for a
traffic violation – police dogs cannot be used to sniff out cars
in parking lots or in random drug checks or when your traffic stop has
If the drug dog alerts the police of drugs in your car, the officer has
probable cause and can legally search your car for drugs. In the 2005
case, the entire stop took less than 10 minutes and the dog alerted the
police of marijuana in the trunk – the Court decided that it was
lawful for the police to search the car and place the driver under arrest.
Of course, there may be ways to challenge the reliability of drug dogs
– stay tuned for our upcoming post on the topic!
The Kyle Law Firm is a highly experienced
criminal defense law firm in the
San Marcos, Texas area. If you need expert help fighting unfair
drug charges or any other arrest, contact our defense lawyers today for a completely