How familiar are you with the protections guaranteed to you under the 4th
Amendment of the United States Constitution? Most people have heard terms
associated with the 4th Amendment but may not understand how its protections
apply in everyday situations. The 4th Amendment guarantees “the
right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures…” and
was crafted to protect the people from government action (or those acting
on behalf of the government.) This means you are protected from police
invasion of your person, property, or things when there is no arrest or
search warrant and no exception to the necessary warrant.
Many times the police attempt to use a trained dog, K-9, to justify a search.
Since a dog’s nose can detect the faintest of odors far beyond what
a human can detect, it is common to see a police dog passing through airports
sniffing luggage or circling a vehicle on the side of the road during
a traffic stop looking for contraband and drugs. In order for the police
to search a person’s legitimate area where they have an expectation
of privacy under the 4th Amendment, the police need probable cause. That
probable cause can be developed by using a dog to sniff out and alert
to what might be contraband or drugs.
The issue with dog searches focuses on the credibility of the dog including
the dog’s training and performance record. Some programs, such as
the one employed by the United States Custom Service, put its dog and
handler through a rigorous twelve-week training course where many of the
dogs do not pass the training. The dog must be trained not to miss illegal
contraband or drugs and how to avoid false alerts while ignoring potential
distractions such as food, harmless drugs, and left over scents. Similarly,
many issues can be raised as to whether the handler has the proper training,
whether the dog was utilized correctly, and whether the handler read the
dog’s signals correctly.
Because there are different training programs used and theories as to why
a dog has an enhanced ability to detect small levels of odorous material,
the fact a dog is trained and certified in and of itself, without evidence
of reliability, only gives the police a suspicion and not probable cause
to search. Usually, little can be done at the time of the search to prevent
it, instead, the dog’s reliability is debated later in court after
the search has happened.
Typically, if a search is determined to be unlawful then any evidence discovered
is suppressed and unused. However, if the dog’s alert is determined
to be unreliable and the search unlawful, the contraband or drugs may
still be used if a person voluntary consented to a search of their person,
luggage, vehicle or things. Therefore, it is not advisable to consent
to a search unless you first consult with an attorney.