Houston Criminal Law Blog

EXPERIENCED. AGGRESSIVE. HOUSTON CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAW FIRM: The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp

How Do Police Officers Use Drug-Sniffing Dogs?

A simple traffic stop oftentimes leads to an arrest. The procedures involved are set, and the rules must be followed by every officer of the law, even canine officers. Law enforcement officers have plenty of allowance to legally search an individual’s vehicle. However, there is no justification for an illegal search.

Reasonable Suspicion

To pull over a vehicle, a police officer only needs reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation has taken place or is currently taking place. The officer may also personally observe the crime, but he must be able to provide detailed facts to support his reasonable suspicion.

Searching a Car During a Traffic Stop

The officer stops the vehicle because of a traffic offense or reasonable suspicion. He does not need anything further to demand all of the occupants to get out of the vehicle. He can also ask for information about the driver and all of the vehicle’s passengers. He can then have a drug-sniffing or detection dog conduct an olfactory search of the car. An officer of the law only has the time of the traffic stop to use the canine. The court has ruled that having a dog smell a vehicle does not violate any defendant’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The court has stated that no one has a legitimate interest of privacy that society is willing to recognize by protecting against a search for contraband.

Police Officers Who Use Detection Dogs

An officer of the law has the legal right to have a canine do a sniff search for illegal substances outside of the car during the length of a traffic stop, as long as the stop was conducted in a lawful manner. It is not necessary to show probable cause; the officer does not have to have reasonable suspicion to allow a canine to do a sniff search. This type of search only applies to the length of the stop. Once the traffic stop has ended, the canine sniff must also end. An officer cannot legally delay a traffic stop if a canine sniffer is not available, and the officer has to call for one to arrive. An individual would have the legal right to have any unlawful evidence excluded due to an illegal search.

Any defendant who has questions about the legality of procedures during a traffic stop is encouraged to talk to The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp at 713-868-6100.

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