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Police cannot force consent to search with threat to use K-9

On Behalf of | May 17, 2021 | Criminal Defense

Law enforcement agencies in Texas use canines trained to alert to the presence of illegal drugs. This alert authorizes searches of people’s vehicles and other private property. When a person refuses to consent to a search, police officers have the option to bring in a drug-sniffing dog. At times, officers threaten to bring in a dog in an effort to convince people to consent to a search. People in that situation always retain the right to refuse to consent to a search. Although they cannot prevent the use of a police dog, the time needed to bring a dog to the scene could strengthen their legal position if criminal charges result. Additionally, recent studies question the accuracy of dog alerts, which could undermine the justification for an arrest.

Traffic stop legitimacy

If a police dog indicates the presence of drugs, then police have probable cause to conduct a search without permission. A U.S. Supreme Court case determined that this action did not violate the Fourth Amendment. However, police cannot detain people indefinitely while awaiting the arrival of a drug-detection canine.

Forcing someone to wait for no obvious reason could make the traffic stop illegitimate. If police check a driver’s license and registration and find no evidence to detain the person longer, then a criminal defense lawyer may frame the actions of law enforcement as unlawful.

Drug dogs are not infallible

Even when a drug dog arrives on scene without the prolonged detention of a suspect, the dog may be trained to provide false alerts. Multiple studies of drug dog accuracy indicate false positive rates ranging from 12.5% to 60%. In light of such facts, a dog’s record of reliability may become an issue when defending someone accused of drug possession.