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Thread: Drug Dogs and Traffic Stops

  1. #1
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    Drug Dogs and Traffic Stops

    I work patrol, and typically get most of my drug arrests from vehicle stops, whether it's from "plain smell" upon making contact with the driver, or getting consent from the operator/owner. I also have an interest in joining my department's K9 unit so I've been studying case law recently.

    I came across two cases that seem to contradict each other and I was wondering if I could get a better answer from a canine officer with experience on the subject.

    According to "United States v. Stone 866 F.2d 359, 364 10th Cir. 1989", there is no expectation of privacy in the odors emanating from a vehicle. Thus, a sniff incidental to a traffic stop, and not supported by reasonable suspicion or probable cause, is limited to the exterior of the vehicle.

    According to "United States v Morgan 270 F.3d 625, 631 8th Cir. 2001", a drug detector dog may be called to the scene of a traffic stop when an officer has reasonable suspicion to believe the car is carrying illegal drugs.

    It seems to me that "US v Stone" states that you do not need reasonable suspicion or probable cause to request that a k9 sniffs a vehicle, but "US v Morgan"seems to state that an officer does need reasonable suspicion.

    Can anyone point me in the right direction?
    Last edited by Street_Cop50; 02-17-2011 at 11:00 PM.

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    I think US v. Morgan is referring to the fact that you are detaining a person longer in order to wait for a K9 to arrive on scene. In which case, you would need RS that there are illegal narcotics present.
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    The U.S. Supreme Court has never established what reasonable time is when conducting traffic stops. Your initial stop for a simple traffic violation can escalate to drug arrest easily, so long as you can document the reasonable suspicion, odor is sufficient reasonable suspicion, inconsistent answers from the driver and passenger can be reasonable suspicion. You are conducting an investigation and having a K-9 unit do a cursory check is part of that investigation. Be prepared to put in writing what you felt were reasonable suspicions and probable cause for the investigation and arrest.
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    I believe this is correct. You can't detain someone longer than reasonably necessary, especially waiting for a K-9 unit to show up. The first thing out handlers ask us is: How many tickets do you have to write? At least 1, sometimes two, gives us time to write while K-9 responds. Our problem is that we're county and the 3 or 4 K-9 units that roll around all tend to linger in the hot zones and don't venture out much. So, sometimes they're 20 minutes out and it exceeds the time limit set by the state attorneys for a "reasonable" time for a traffic stop.

    Our whole deal here is that once you get a car stopped and think you're gonna need a K-9, get one started and start writing. Another deputy can come out and ask for consent while I'm writing my tickets but I cant put my ticket book down during all that to start a vehicle search. Apparently the attorneys will throw it out with a quickness. So, basically, it never hurts to have a couple violations.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyber_Saint View Post
    I think US v. Morgan is referring to the fact that you are detaining a person longer in order to wait for a K9 to arrive on scene. In which case, you would need RS that there are illegal narcotics present.
    I'm pretty sure this is correct. No RS is required to have a K9 sniff the exterior of a vehicle UNLESS the duration of detention (the traffic stop) is extended. The Morgan ruling essentially limited suspicionless exterior sniffs to the time it takes the initial officer to finish writing the ticket(s). There is a newer ruling (US v. Bell) which relates the the handler can ask the occupants to exit the vehicle for the sniff and that such action does NOT unreasonably extend the duration of detention. I can't find the citation right now, but I also remember reading that if the stopping officer is also the canine handler, he may perform an exterior sniff himself without unreasonably extending the stop.
    "The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, can not and will not ever harm the sheep." -Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

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    Thanks for the replies everyone.

    Fahrenheit,

    I'm pretty sure this is correct. No RS is required to have a K9 sniff the exterior of a vehicle UNLESS the duration of detention (the traffic stop) is extended. The Morgan ruling essentially limited suspicionless exterior sniffs to the time it takes the initial officer to finish writing the ticket(s).
    What you're saying is that no RS is required if the K9 will be on scene within a reasonable amount of time. Any longer, than you better have the RS. That's what I thought, but I wanted a definite answer. Thanks.


    Another question while I'm thinking of it at the moment. Do occupants of a vehicle have to be outside of it when a K9 conducts an exterior sniff, or can they remain inside?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Street_Cop50 View Post

    Another question while I'm thinking of it at the moment. Do occupants of a vehicle have to be outside of it when a K9 conducts an exterior sniff, or can they remain inside?
    The Bell decision leaves that to the handler's discretion. I prefer to remove the occupants to avoid distracting my dog. However, you as the stopping officer need to continue writing so you may need a third unit if the handler wants a back.
    "The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, can not and will not ever harm the sheep." -Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

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    If you smell drugs in the car, you can search it. If you have no odor you can smell, plain view, or otherwise but can articulate reasonable suspicion you can wait for a dog. The issue has been what is reasonable for the time of detention. Looking over the case law it can be 15 minutes or 2 hours. Its all in your articulation and the circumstances behind the time delay. Reasonable suspicion is of course nervous behavior, prior history, area of the stop, and on and on. Its all about whether you can articulate your reason and have valid reasons for your concerns. Of course if the dog is present you can run any car you like as long as it doesnt appreciably lengthen the traffic stop. This would be having the dog working with you or actually being the handler. Ill look for my case law and reference this with actual opinions from the court so it isnt just some dude told me and you can read the law yourself.

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    Thank you all for explaining this. I'm a soon to be handler and this has been very helpful.

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    Would someone walk me through how you handle a stop if you are the K-9 officer and you made the stop, let's say you do not have enough to justify ARS but just a good hunch that they are holding and you are just fishing. Trying to get some ways to handle this situation, thought about having my backup write the warning/citation, ect. while I conduct a walk around. I am trying to avoid having to end the stop and make it a consensual encounter and ask for consent to further prolong the stop. A supervisor is suggesting that I write more cites, trying to work all this out time wise.

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    2nt Time there are opinions out there stating as long as it doesnt apppreciably lengthen the stop then the length of detention is irrelevant. The extra 2 minutes it takes to run your dog doesnt appreciably lengthen the stop according to the case I read. However you would need to establish a pattern of running every car or every 3rd car or something so its not just seen as profiling. I just love how the courts have shifted from are they guilty to should we have caught them. It seems guilt is no longer questioned, its whether some technicality can keep them out of trouble.

    Read this 1st: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/script...=543&invol=405

    Any Officer who really does study case law to be better in his job can find a lot of useful cases simply by taking a circumstance and entering it into google. Remember you courts only have to follow higher courts in their district. For instance in Oklahoma we have District Court, Oklahoma Court of Criminal appeals, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. Any other appellate court or state courts rulings are Dicta and can be considered but do not have to be. Anything in the chain I mentioned must be followed by those courts within that circuit.

    Hope you find something helpful with this.
    Last edited by HCSO511; 03-13-2013 at 09:54 PM.
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