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When Can Law Enforcement Use a Dog to Search My Vehicle?

Matthew Williams, Associate

26 June 2018

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires all law enforcement officers to have a search warrant or probable cause before they search anyone or their property. In most situations where people have their car searched, law enforcement conducts a search based on probable cause rather than a warrant.

There are a number of different ways that law enforcement can develop probable cause to search your car. Law enforcement can develop probable cause to search your car if they smell drugs in your car, if they observe anything illegal in your car, or if you admit that you have something illegal in the car, just to name a few. They can also develop probable cause to search your car if a trained K9 “alerts” to the presence of illegal drugs in your car.

What does that mean? It means if you are driving a car, or if you are a passenger in a car, and that car is legally stopped for a traffic violation, the officer can ask the driver and all passengers to step out of the car and proceed to walk the K9 around the outside of the car.* The officer does not need a “reason” to ask you to step out, the officer does not need any “proof” that you have drugs in the car and the officer doesn’t need your consent to walk the dog around your car. Law enforcement can just order you to get out and then proceed to walk their dog around your car without giving you any reason at all. If the K9 “alerts” to the presence of an illegal substance inside the vehicle, then that gives the officer probable cause to search everything in your car, including your glove box and trunk.

As a criminal defense attorney, I realize law enforcement officers can be dishonest about whether their dog “alerted” to the smell of illegal narcotics just so they can search your car. I also realize that it’s degrading, invasive and embarrassing to be detained on the side of the road while law enforcement searches your car. That being said, you will not win any battle with law enforcement on the side of the road so remain respectful, compliant and cordial during the traffic stop – then call me to fight for you in the court of law.

An arrest that stems from a search of your vehicle can result in serious penalties in the State of Florida. Drug possession convictions can lead to probation, jail time, or even prison. It can also lead to driver’s license suspensions and a permanent criminal record. If you were arrested after your vehicle was searched, you need to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer who isn’t afraid to fight for your freedom, justice and respect.

If you have any questions about your rights when stopped by law enforcement, or if you were arrested as a result of law enforcement searching your car, give me a call at 850.383.0000. You can also email me at mwilliams@akbarlawfirm.com.

*The K9 officer must arrive on scene during the time it takes to resolve the reason for the actual stop. Meaning, if you were pulled over for speeding, the K9 officer must arrive while the officer who pulled you over is writing your speeding ticket. The officer who pulled you over cannot hold you on scene waiting for the K9 to arrive once he is finished writing your speeding ticket.

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