Can your vehicle be searched by a drug dog?

Can your vehicle be searched by a drug dog?

Many law enforcement agencies use drug dogs to find evidence of controlled substances. If law enforcement stops you on the road, can the police search your vehicle with a drug dog? The U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on the matter in Rodriguez v. United States.   

In this case, the petitioner, Rodriguez, was stopped by a Nebraska K-9 officer in a routine traffic stop. Rodriguez was driving on the shoulder, which is a violation of Nebraska law. The officer completed the stop and issued a warning for the offense. The officer then asked Rodriguez for permission to allow the dog to walk around the vehicle. When Rodriguez refused, the officer detained him until another officer arrived. The dog then walked around the car and signaled the presence of drugs. The officers arrested Rodriguez.

The challenge and the ruling

Rodriguez challenged the search. The lower courts denied his petition, so he appealed to the Supreme Court. Justice Ginsberg wrote the decision for the Court, which stated that the law permits an officer to conduct unrelated checks for certain things during a lawful traffic stop. However, these checks may not unduly prolong the length of the stop, unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion otherwise.

Rodriguez was sent back to the lower courts to determine if reasonable cause existed, but the Court ruling stands. Once a traffic stop ends, the driver should not be detained to allow a drug dog to search the vehicle unless there is reasonable suspicion otherwise. 

Drug charges are serious 

Transporting illegal substances can lead to multiple charges and a possible conviction. Drug charges and a conviction can limit your job opportunities for years to come. You may face prison time and large fines. But you do have rights when you are stopped by law enforcement.  If you are charged with a drug crime, you would benefit from the advice of an experienced lawyer who can help you find the best possible solution to your case.