Can a Police Dog Legally Search My Vehicle?

Written by Jonathan Breeden

May 31, 2017

When you are pulled over by the police while driving, you need to understand your rights in regard to searches of your vehicle and person. While you may think of searches as the police looking around your vehicle or patting you down, these can also be conducted by drug-sniffing dogs. K9 officers can be trained to detect marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin, meth, unlawful mushrooms, and more. With their heightened sense of smell, dogs can find even small amounts and well-hidden drugs. However, like with officer-conducted searches, there are times when a police dog search is lawful and times when it is not.

If you were stopped by the police and a drug-sniffing dog was used prior to your arrest, contact a North Carolina criminal defense lawyer from Breeden Law Office right away by calling (919) 661-4970. An experienced attorney can review your traffic stop and search to determine if your rights were violated and the strongest defenses to the charges against you.

When a Police Dog Can Search Your Vehicle

A police dog is an extension of the police. There are limits to when they can be used to inspect and search your vehicle or person. However, the standard for when a police officer can look inside your car and when a police canine can smell around your vehicle are different. For an officer to search your car, there needs to be probable cause. An officer must have sound facts that strongly support you are involved in a crime. For instance, if there is a strong odor of marijuana, this is enough for the cops to search the interior of your vehicle to look for cannabis or paraphernalia. There is not such a heightened standard for when dogs can be brought in.

In North Carolina, if a police officer thinks you might have drugs in your vehicle, they can call for a drug-sniffing dog to smell around your car. They only need reasonable suspicion that you are involved in criminal activity, which they can derive through observing your driving, your matching a description of a wanted offender, or from your answers and actions at a lawful checkpoint. It is a relatively low standard for when a K9 officer can be used.

However, there is a major limit and that is time. Essentially, the police cannot wait for an extended period for a drug-sniffing dog to arrive. This creates an unnecessary delay of the traffic stop and becomes unlawful. In reality, the cops can only use a drug canine if one is nearby or they already have one with them.

When a K9 Officer Search is Unlawful

There may be many situations in which the use of a drug-sniffing dog was unlawful. However, two common issues are when:

  • There was no reasonable suspicion or a lawful DUI checkpoint leading to your traffic stop
  • Your traffic stop was unnecessary lengthened to wait for the dog

If your vehicle was searched by a police dog under either of these two circumstances, contact an experienced North Carolina criminal defense lawyer right away. These issues can be strong defenses in court. If there was no reasonable suspicion to stop your car or a lawful DUI checkpoint, then the police should not have pulled you over to begin with. The charges that arose from this illegal stop can be challenged in court and potentially excluded.

Additionally, if the police make you wait a significant amount of time for a K9 officer, then you may have evidence of an unlawful detainment in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. However, you should obtain an experienced and objective attorney’s opinion regarding how long you had to wait before trying to challenge your charges on this ground in court. Whether the wait was too long may depend on the circumstances and recent North Carolina court decisions.

Call a North Carolina Criminal Defense Lawyer for Help

If you believe your rights were violated during a traffic stop, do not hesitate to ask for legal advice. At Breeden Law Office, our priority is always to protect your rights and fight for the best possible outcome in your case. If your rights were violated, such as through an unlawful police dog search of your vehicle, we may be able to use this issue in defense against the charges.

For more information on how we can help you, contact the Breeden Law Office at (919) 661-4970 and schedule an appointment to go over your case.


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