As in Place, the court found that the detention that provided the opportunity for a K-9 sniff was unreasonable. But also as in Place, the court made clear that if the detention had been justified, the mere use of the dog would not have violated the Fourth Amendment.
The court explained, “The fact that officers walk a narcotics-detection dog around the exterior of each car at the Indianapolis checkpoints does not transform the seizure into a search. Just as in Place, an exterior sniff of an automobile does not require entry into the car and is not designed to disclose any information other than the presence or absence of narcotics. A sniff by a dog that simply walks around a car is much less intrusive than a typical search.”
Once again, the court held that it was the seizure that violated the Fourth Amendment—not the use of the K-9. If the narcotics checkpoint had been a permissible way to stop cars, the walk-around would not have been any problem.
Illinois v. Caballes
In 2005, the Supreme Court finally got a chance to clarify that exterior dog sniffs, during a lawful detention, do not violate the Fourth Amendment.
Caballes was stopped for speeding. The officer intended to write him a warning ticket, which might have taken 10 minutes. A nearby K-9 officer, hearing about the stop on the radio, rolled by and walked his dog around the car while Caballes was being issued a traffic warning—a lawful detention. The dog hit, a search produced drugs, and Caballes moved to suppress the evidence.
The Illinois Supreme Court thought the K-9 sniff was an “unjustifiable enlargement” of the traffic stop, and held that since there was no reasonable suspicion to justify use of the dog, the drugs should be suppressed. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision.
Since the duration of the 10-minute stop was not extended to accommodate the K-9 sniff, the Supreme Court found this case to be distinguishable from Place and Edmond. Once it was determined that there had been no unreasonable seizure and that the K-9 sniff did not extend the length of the seizure, the court simply applied the K-9 portions of its earlier decisions, and upheld the search of Caballes’s car.
“The use of a well-trained narcotics-detection dog during a lawful traffic stop generally does not implicate legitimate privacy interests,” the court said. “In this case, the dog sniff was performed on the exterior of respondent’s car while he was lawfully seized for a traffic violation. A dog sniff conducted during a concededly lawful traffic stop that reveals no information other than the location of a substance that no individual has any right to possess does not violate the Fourth Amendment.”
The court held that the K-9 alert was sufficiently reliable to establish probable cause for a full-blown search of the trunk of the car and, therefore, the drugs were lawfully seized and should not have been suppressed.
General K-9 Sniff Principles
Several points can be seen from these cases:
• If the initial detention of property or persons is unlawful, the results of the K-9 sniff may be inadmissible.
• If an initially lawful detention is unlawfully prolonged just to allow a K-9 sniff, the results may be inadmissible.
• Motorists cannot be subjected to checkpoint stops solely for the purpose of running a K-9 check for drugs.
• As long as there is no detention, or as long as any detention is lawfully made and not unduly prolonged, the use of a K-9 to sniff for contraband (which could include both narcotics and explosive materials) is not a Fourth Amendment “search” and, therefore, requires no suspicion.
Devallis Rutledge, a former police officer and veteran prosecutor, is Special Counsel to the Los Angeles County District Attorney.