Stop and Sniff

If you’re anything like us, you coo when you see police dogs at the airport, train station, or even at public schools. Their big, fluffy ears and long snouts are undeniably adorable. However cute they are, though, these dogs are highly trained professionals, and they often contribute to arrests.

Humans have used canines for many purposes historically, including as farm helpers and war weapons. Although we don’t see dogs on the battlefield very often these days, dogs are commonly trained for domestic law enforcement purposes in the United States and a range of other countries. Especially since the later half of the twentieth century, the use of K9s to detect illegal drugs has been deployed by law enforcement officers all over the country.

Stop and SniffWhen interacting with an officer assisted by a K9 unit, you can easily become intimidated by the police dog. You might feel as though this dog knows and will reveal information you would otherwise not share, or that the dog might attack you if you make a sudden movement. In all actuality, police dogs are a lot less scary than they’re made out to be. By understanding your rights when interacting with a drug detection dog, you can defend those rights and more smoothly navigate your current situation.

The Supreme Court has set down certain boundaries on how officers are, and are not, allowed to utilize drug detection dogs. Regulation of K9 usage grows out of the Court’s interpretation of our Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Amendment protects the American people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Searches and seizures made by officers without a warrant are generally considered unreasonable, however state and federal courts have outlined exceptions to the warrant requirement. Drug dogs, therefore, may only be used as searching technology in ways and contexts which are considered reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

In Florida v. Jardines 569 U.S. 1 (2013), the Supreme Court of the United States held that the utilization of drug dogs to investigate the home and its immediate surroundings is a search and thus implicates the protections of the Fourth Amendment. Two police officers in Miami-Dade County, Florida brought a drug dog onto Jardines’s front porch without first obtaining a warrant.


The dog alerted positive for the presence of illegal drugs, and the police used this alert to obtain a search warrant to search Jardines’s home. Jardines was subsequently charged with trafficking marijuana. Writing the Court’s opinion, Justice Scalia said, “the detectives had all four of their feet and all four of their companion’s firmly planted on the constitutionally protected extension of Jardines’ home.” Officers are allowed to approach a citizen’s door on foot because this is considered a freedom all people have. However, the Court ruled that bringing a drug dog to a citizen’s door is inherently more invasive and implicates the protections of the Constitution.

Therefore, the officers were required to have either a valid warrant signed by a judge or Jardines’s consent to let the drug dog on his property. They had neither. The Supreme Court thus upheld Florida’s Supreme Court’s decision to suppress the evidence obtained against Jardines as a result of the search of his home.

So, your home is protected against warrantless searches by drug dogs. Unfortunately, the same does not apply to your vehicle. Automobiles are not granted the same protections as your residence. Due to automobiles being in near-constant movement, especially through public areas such as highways, and because evidence can easily be removed from an automobile, the Supreme Court and state courts often consider automobiles an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment.

In 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States reviewed how the status of automobiles in regards to the Fourth Amendment applies to drug dog searches. An Illinois State Trooper stopped Roy Caballes for speeding, radioing in his stop to the dispatcher. Another trooper overheard the transmission and decided to come to the scene to assist. This second trooper was a member of the Illinois State Police Drug Interdiction Team, and had a narcotics-detection dog with him. When the dog arrived at the scene, officers walked him around Caballes’s car. The dog alerted positive for drugs in the car and Cabellas was arrested. The entire traffic stop lasted less than ten minutes. Reviewing Illinois v. Caballes 543 U.S. 405 (2005), the Court determined that as long as a sniff outside of a citizen’s vehicle by a trained drug detection dog does not extend a legal traffic stop beyond the timespan required to complete a normal traffic stop, the search does not implicate legitimate privacy interests. In conclusion, “A dog sniff conducted during a concededly lawful traffic stop that reveals no information other than the location of a substance that no individual has any right to possess does not violate the Fourth Amendment” (Illinois v. Caballes (2005)).

Tennessee’s Court of Criminal Appeals heard a case pertaining to Illinois v. Caballes earlier this year. In State of Tennessee v. Andre JuJuan Lee Green No. M2022-00899-CCA-R3-CD (2023), the court overturned the trial court’s decision to grant the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence. Green was the passenger in a vehicle pulled over for a valid traffic stop. During the stop, the officer smelled a strong “cover-up” odor (i.e., air fresheners) and noticed a black backpack in between Green’s feet on the floorboard. He conducted an open-air sniff with his drug detection dog, who indicated positive for the presence of illegal drugs. Green was subsequently arrested on drug charges. At trial, Green argued that because drug dogs cannot legitimately differentiate between the odor of illegal marijuana and legal hemp (i.e., CBD), the dog’s sniff was not sufficient probable cause for the officer to search the car or Green’s backpack. On these grounds, Green filed a motion to suppress the evidence against him gained in this search. The trial court granted his motion, but the state appealed that decision to Tennessee’s Court of Criminal Appeals. The criminal appellate court determined that the suppression was made in error and reinstated the indictments against Green.

So, if you’re pulled over for a valid traffic stop, police may conduct a sniff around your car with a trained drug detection dog. Furthermore, if the K9 alerts positive for the presence of drugs, police may use this as probable cause to conduct a more extensive search of your car. If the introduction of a drug detection dog unreasonably extends the time taken to conduct a normal traffic stop, however, you may be able to move the court to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the sniff. And if police knock on your door with a drug dog in tow, be sure to demand a copy of a valid warrant. If the officer does not have a warrant signed by a judge, they may be acting unlawfully.

If criminal charges have been brought against you following a sniff search by a drug detection dog, reach out to Best & Brock PLLC for a thorough review of your case. We will help you identify any violations of your constitutional rights and bring these violations to the court’s attention. Fill out our online contact form or call us at 423-829-1043 to set up a free consultation with one of our criminal defense attorneys.