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Do K-9 Alerts Give Free Reign?


Police are allowed to search your vehicle only in certain situations.  The law allows police to search an arrested person’s vehicle without a warrant “only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest” according to Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009).  So, voluntarily exiting a vehicle might seem to make sense in some cases, right?

A Reason to Step Away

That’s what a Florida man did when a police officer stopped him to discuss his suspended license.  In the meantime, the officer called for a narcotics canine (K-9), and when it arrived 5 minutes later, it alerted to an odor near the man.  The officer searched him, found two small bags of methamphetamine, and put him handcuffed in the officer’s vehicle.  Although the man did not consent to a search of his car, the K-9 then alerted to another narcotics odor from outside the driver-side door as well as inside from the center console.  There police found more drugs, paraphernalia, and a loaded handgun; the man was charged with driving on a suspended license, possession of a gun by a convicted felon, and multiple counts of drug possession and trafficking.

In court, the man argued that the search of his car was an unreasonable search and seizure protected by the Fourth Amendment, just like in the Gant case above, because he was not within reaching distance of his car.  The police argued that the Gant case did not apply because the K-9 alert at the car was, by itself, enough probable cause.  The trial court first agreed with the man and did not allow evidence from the car search.

Not So Fast

But the appeals court took a look at the case and disagreed with the man.  Instead, it found that there was enough probable cause to search the car because—even though he was not within reaching distance of the car—the man was arrested for possession at the point when the K-9 alerted to him and before the K-9 alerted to the car.  So, unlike the situation in the Gant case, the police did have reason to believe the car contained evidence of the offense of the arrest, and the search fell into the so-called “automobile exception” to the Fourth Amendment.

But Still Not So Fast

But the appeals court did not fully agree with the police.  The court was careful to connect the probable cause to search his car to the man’s particular “crime of arrest,” citing the Gant case.  In particular, the court seemed to not accept the view that once a K-9 alerts to a car, police automatically have probable cause to search it.

So, what if the man did not have drugs on him when he stepped out of the car?  What if the police officer detained him for an hour while waiting for the K-9 to arrive?

Contact Our Office Today for Help

If you are facing possible criminal charges, reach out to a criminal defense attorney in Florida for help.  An experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal attorney can help you evaluate your individual situation and fight for your rights.  Call the office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. today at 954-467-6656 or visit us online to schedule a free consultation.






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