Police officers in Louisiana and around the country are usually required to obtain search warrants before looking inside vehicles that they have pulled over, but exceptions are made when they have probable cause to believe that a crime is being committed or has been committed. K-9 units are often dispatched to traffic stops to provide this probable cause because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that what is known as an air sniff does not violate the right against unreasonable search and seizure protected by the Fourth Amendment. However, a case involving an enthusiastic police dog has raised questions about the scope of that ruling.
Dog jumps up during air sniff
The case involves an Idaho man who was arrested in 2019 after traces of methamphetamine and a pill bottle were discovered in his car. A Mountain Hope Police Department officer pulled the man’s vehicle over after allegedly seeing it make an unlawful turn and cross three lanes of traffic. The evidence was discovered after a K-9 unit jumped up and placed its paws on one of the car’s doors while conducting an air sniff.
The evidence allegedly discovered in the man’s car was enough to convince a judge to issue a search warrant, and the man was charged with felony drug possession after controlled substances were found in his motel room. He was later convicted. The case took an unexpected turn when the man’s criminal defense attorney appealed the conviction and convinced the Idaho Supreme Court that the air sniff became an illegal search when the police dog jumped up and placed its paws on the man’s car. The case has now been referred to the U.S. Supreme Court.
When an air sniff becomes trespass
The Fourth Amendment is taken very seriously by the courts, and warrantless searches are frowned upon by judges in most situations. The Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the police dog committed trespass when it placed its paws on the man’s car. It remains to be seen whether the nation’s highest court agrees with this interpretation of the events.