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K-9 search at a traffic stop

K-9 searches are stressful, often scary situations for defendants.  Our criminal defense lawyers explain these stops and the law surrounding them:

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?

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If you face criminal charges contact Meyer Van Severen, S.C. immediately.  Criminal justice actors throughout Wisconsin recognize our defense attorneys as among the best in the state.  Whether you’re charged with a drunk driving offense, a drug offense, or any other kind of crime, contact us at (414) 270-0202.

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.

State v. House

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 police stop you 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.

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In certain circumstances police can search your vehicle using a K-9. Contact Meyer Van Severen, S.C. at (414) 270-0202 for help involving any criminal case.

Were you the subject of a K-9 search?

Contact Meyer Van Severen, S.C. if you were the subject of a K-9 traffic stop.  Our criminal defense lawyers regularly file pre-trial motions challenging illegal police conduct.  Certainly those motions include challenges to K-9 stops.  Upon a successful motion, the remedy in certain cases is a complete dismissal.  And if the police acted illegally, that’s certainly our goal.

We answer phones 24/7 and want to help.  Contact us at (414) 270-0202.  From there, we’ll schedule an initial consultation and begin planning your defense.

(Updated by Matthew R. Meyer on July 17, 2020.)