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What Is a Dog-Sniff Case?

It seems like a strange name but a dog-sniff case is exactly what it sounds like:  a drug case (almost always) where a trained dog is used to sniff the outside of a vehicle to establish the presence of illegal drugs.  All manner of police agencies use canines these days to locate illegal drugs.  Fairfax County, for example, employs about 2 to 4 dogs a day to patrol for illegal drugs within a county of over 400 square miles and over 1.1 million people.

Until quite recently, the way typical dog-sniff cases worked out was like this:  you get pulled over for a traffic infraction, you receive a ticket, the officer asks if he can walk a dog around the outside of the vehicle, you either refuse or consent, he either has the dog or has to wait for assistance from a K-9 Unit, the dog is lead around the car and the dog either alerts or does not alert.  If the dog alerts, they perform a more intrusive search and, if illegal drugs are found, you are arrested and you go to jail.  It is, or was, a pretty simple concept and one that many of us are familiar with from the television or the movies.  I say “was” simply because it no longer seems quite so simple and this is because of one reason: Rodriguez v. United States, a Supreme Court decision that was handed down on April 21, 2015.

A Quick Explanation of Rodriguez v. United States and What It May Mean

Rodriguez involved a Nebraska man who was pulled over for driving on the shoulder of the road.  The police officer ran the driver’s information and then the officer came back to the car and asked both the driver and the passenger some questions.  He then went back to his cruiser, ran a records check on the passenger and called for backup.  He then went back to the car and issued Mr. Rodriguez a traffic violation warning citation.  The officer then asked the driver if he minded if he walked a K-9 around his car to sniff for possible illegal drugs.  The driver declined.  The officer ordered the driver out of the car and conducted the dog-sniff anyway.  The dog alerted and a subsequent search found a substantial amount of methamphetamine.  No more than 7 to 8 minutes had elapsed from the warning being given to the dog alerting for the illegal drugs

The bottom line result of the decision is that a traffic stop is “unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete [the traffic stop] mission.”

In a real world situation, it means that if, for example, you are pulled over for, say, failing to wear your seatbelt, a police officer must expeditiously write the ticket or warning for the violation and let you go on your way.  If the officer lacks reasonable suspicion, she seemingly can no longer conduct a dog-sniff on your vehicle as a result of your traffic infraction if extends the traffic stop.  According to Fairfax County Police Public Affairs, only 1 to 2 narcotics dogs work every shift and there are 2 shifts per day.  Unless you are unlucky enough to be pulled over by a K-9 Unit with a dog inside, your traffic stop would definitely be extended while waiting on a dog to arrive.

If you have been pulled over for a traffic violation and you have been subjected to a dog-sniff that resulted in your arrest, you need an attorney to preserve your rights.  Give Jad Sarsour a call today at 571-216-2639 to set up your initial consultation today.  He will analyze the facts and law surrounding your case (including Rodriguez) and determine the best course of action necessary to preserve your rights.

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