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K-9 Search at a Traffic Stop

The police just pulled you over for a traffic violation.  The officer took down your information and has decided to issue you a citation.  As he is handing you the ticket, he asks “Do you mind if I run my K-9 around your vehicle?”  What do you do?  Can you refuse?  What happens when the officer walks his dog around your car anyway?

Reasonable suspicion and extending the stop

As explained before, officers can pull you over if they have reasonable suspicion that a traffic law has been or is being violated.  Assuming that the officer has a valid reason to pull you over, the officer is expected to complete his investigation into the purpose of the stop and send you on your way.  Sometimes, however, the officer might ask if you have any illegal drugs in the car.  Do NOT consent to a search.  In a polite and respectful manner, simply tell the officer he cannot search your car and then ask if you are free to leave.  More often than not, the officer will let you go.

There are officers who will disregard your request to leave and will still take their K-9 and walk him around your vehicle.  If the K-9 “hits” on a point outside your vehicle, the officer will use that indicator as justification to search of the interior of your vehicle.  If a scenario similar to this happened to you, your chance of suppressing evidence found in your vehicle has greatly increased thanks to a few recent court cases.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court explained in State v. House that “where the reasons justifying the original stop have ceased to exist because the purpose of the stop has concluded, further seizure is beyond the scope of the initial stop.”  The traffic stop in House was for operating with a suspended registration.  The officer issued House a warning for the registration violation, effectively completing the traffic stop.  However, the officer then conducted a K-9 search of House’s vehicle which uncovered marijuana in the trunk.  Because the purpose of the stop had been resolved, the continued detention of House to conduct the K-9 search was not reasonably related to the initial purpose of the stop in the first place and the court ruled that House had been unlawfully seized.

How long is too long?

Courts around the country disagreed as to how long an officer could extend a traffic stop to conduct a K-9 search.  The United States Supreme Court finally put the issue to rest in Rodriguez v. United States.  “Any stop prolonged beyond the time required to complete the “mission” is unlawful absent reasonable suspicion.  For example, let’s say you are stopped for a registration violation.  The “mission” of the stop is to issue you a warning or citation for having an unregistered vehicle.  Unless the officer can point to specific reasons to investigate a drug crime (such as the odor of marijuana, blood shot eyes, slurred speech), he cannot extend the traffic stop to conduct a K-9 search of your vehicle.

Were you the subject of a K-9 search?

If you or someone you know was the subject of a K-9 search at a traffic stop, call Meyer Van Severen, S.C.  The attorneys at Meyer Van Severen, S.C. have filed motions challenging K-9 searches which has led to evidence being suppressed and charges dismissed.  Attorney Benjamin Van Severen can be reached directly at 414-944-1758.