Police may not use dogs in vehicle stops


    By Jordan Muhlestein

    The Supreme Court said Monday it will decide whether drug-sniffing dogs can be used to search vehicles stopped by police for non-drug related reasons.

    The specific case the court will try concerns an Illinois man who was pulled over for speeding and, when his car was searched by a police dog, was found to have $250,000 of marijuana in the trunk.

    “I think one has to be cautious in being able to allow that sort of thing to happen, remembering the protections that all people need,” said Byron Daynes, a political science professor at BYU.

    The Supreme Court decided in 1983, a sniff test by a dog does not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment because the air the dog sniffs is public property and the sniff itself is unobtrusive.

    Daynes said immediate crises need rapid responses and looser restrictions would be warranted, but should be the exception rather than the rule.

    “That”s what I fear, that if it becomes standard operating procedure, protection of individuals becomes much less,” he said.

    Officers cannot hold suspects longer than usual to summon canines for a search without probable cause for drug suspicion, Daynes said.

    “Each geographical area has its own stipulation on how long you can detain a vehicle, it could be 45 minutes in one county or 15 minutes in another,” said Utah Highway Patrol sergeant Kenneth Purdy.

    Purdy, the canine coordinator for the Utah Highway Patrol, said drug-sniffing dogs are used frequently in traffic stops in Utah, usually when an officer has reasonable suspicion to search for drug activity. Reasonable suspicion can also come when the motorist consents to letting their vehicle be sniffed.

    Utah Highway Patrol has 10 dogs placed around the state. The canine program began in 1998 with three dogs and added seven more a year and a half ago, Purdy said.

    “Probably 98 percent of the time the dogs are used for narcotics sniffs,” he said. “The other 2 percent is handler defense and suspect apprehension.”

    Bill Heiser, owner and trainer at Southern Hills Kennels in Daytona, Fla., said it takes between eight and 12 weeks to train a drug-sniffing dog, and the dogs trained are usually between one and a half and three years old.

    “We recommend [handlers] train them on a weekly basis,” Heiser said. “Also we require a yearly certification for the team, the dog and its handler.”

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