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Arizona car searches, drug detection dogs and drug arrests

Posted by Craig Penrod | Dec 26, 2013 | 0 Comments

Many felony drug arrests in the state of Arizona are the result of a drug detection dog alerting law enforcement officers to the potential of drugs in a motor vehicle. Many of these arrests are related to marijuana or drug paraphernalia, but there are also a number of arrests for methamphetamine or cocaine and, to a lesser degree, crack-cocaine or heroin.

Police officers may use a drug dog to search your car in Arizona when you are pulled over for an unrelated traffic violation if they suspect you may have drugs in your car or they may use drug dogs routinely at certain checkpoints throughout the state. In Illinois v. Caballes, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police officers do not need to have a reasonable suspicion in order to use drug detection dogs to sniff a vehicle during a legitimate traffic stop.

The Supreme Court decision was rendered in the case of Roy Caballes, who was initially stopped for exceeding the posted speed limit. Caballes was arrested on a charge of marijuana trafficking after a drug detection dog was brought to the scene of the traffic stop and subsequently alerted after sniffing his vehicle. The Supreme Court of Illinois had reversed his conviction in circuit court after it found that a drug detection dog sniff was an unreasonable search absent evidence of criminal activity other than speeding.

But in a 6-2 ruling, the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was not implicated when law enforcement officers use a drug detection dog to sniff for evidence during the course of a legal traffic stop. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion of the court, which found that since sniffs by drug detection dogs only identify the presence of illegal items—in which citizens have no legitimate privacy interest—the Fourth Amendment does not apply to the situation.

Thus, the ruling authorizes law enforcement officers to walk a drug detection dog around a motor vehicle during any legitimate traffic stop. Should the drug detection dog signal that it smells narcotics, that provides the necessary probable cause to conduct a search of the interior of the vehicle. The high court's ruling does not allow police officers to detain you indefinitely should the arrival of the drug detection dog is delayed. The duration of the traffic stop will determine the legitimacy of any arrest based upon the initial search of the drug detection dog. Should you be pulled over for a traffic stop and police officers threaten to call in drug detection dogs, you are not required to consent to a search by the dogs.

Narcotics detection dogs are trained to sniff out drugs based upon a reward-based system. That means that the dogs are trained to associate alerting their handlers to drugs with the reception of a reward or a treat. Drug detection dogs may be trained to alert handlers in a variety of ways, including actively pawing the ground or even sitting down. Once a drug detection dog displays this alert behavior, then law enforcement officers have probable cause to conduct a search your motor vehicle.

Despite the best of intentions, these drug detection dogs do make mistakes. If the dog is tired, improperly handled, or improperly trained, then the results of the dearth by the dog may be unreliable. Because drug detection dogs may not be reliable or properly trained, then the evidence found in that search may not be permissible in court. It's advisable to have a lawyer investigate your case if there is concern that the officers did not have appropriate cause to search your vehicle.

Should a law enforcement officer making a traffic stop doesn't have a drug detection dog immediately available, the officer will need reasonable suspicion to detain you until the drug detection dog can be brought to your location. You have the right to determine if you can leave before the drug detection arrives by asking the officer if you are free to leave. If the officer refuses to allow you to leave and you are detained until arrival of the drug detection dog, you have the right to remain silent and refuse to consent to any searches by the dog even if the officer claims you have to.

The act of unlocking your vehicle at the request of the officer or should you hand the officer the keys to your vehicle that can be considered to be the act of consenting to a search. If a judge determine that the law enforcement officer had no justification to detain you until the drug detection dog arrived, any evidence discovered as a result of the sniff search by the dog may be excluded as evidence in any court proceedings.

While the ruling in the Caballes case does not constitute a significant change in the constitutionality of drug detection dog sniff searches, it does clarify previous rulings in which the Supreme Court was reluctant to apply the Fourth Amendment to the use of drug detection dogs. The ruling also does not apply to the use of law enforcement dogs in situations other than legitimate traffic stops.

At least 17 states, including the state of Arizona and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of medical marijuana for citizens with a doctor's recommendation. There are two types of driving under the influence (DUI) offenses involving marijuana in the state of Arizona. First, a driver can be charged with DUI if there is probable cause to believe that he operated a motor vehicle while “impaired to the slightest degree” by marijuana. Secondly, a person is in violation of DUI law if they operate a motor vehicle with any trace of marijuana in their system as detected by THC metabolites in bodily fluids.

In Tempe, Phoenix or other communities in Maricopa County, it is important that your DUI legal situation should be handled by expert professionals with the experience possessed by the attorneys at the Law Offices of Craig W. Penrod, P.C. Our office offers free consultations for all DUI and criminal matters. Our Arizona DUI attorneys and Arizona criminal lawyers can provide you with the experience and knowledge needed for qualified representation. An experienced Arizona DUI lawyer is vital in DUI cases and our DUI attorneys set that standard. If you're in need of a criminal defense, our Arizona criminal attorneys are ready to assist you.

About the Author

Craig Penrod

Craig W. Penrod was born and raised in Arizona and has practiced criminal defense for over 30 years. Mr. Penrod is a member of the State Bar of Arizona, Maricopa County Bar Association, State of Nevada Bar Association, American Bar Association, American Trial Lawyers Association, Arizona Trial Lawyers Association, Nevada Trial Lawyers Association, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

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