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drug dogA police officer with a K-9 drug sniffing dog in Nebraska pulled over a motorist for driving on the shoulder of the highway. The driver answered all of the officer’s questions and received a warning for the traffic offense. The officer then requested the driver’s permission to walk the K-9 dog around the car. The driver refused to give his consent so the officer detained him on the side of the road for 7-8 minutes until a second officer arrived on the scene. The K-9 dog was then walked around the car and alerted to the presence of narcotics. A search of the car turned up methamphetamine and the driver was later indicted on federal drug charges.

At trial, the defense attorney filed a motion to suppress the drugs seized from the vehicle, arguing that the police prolonged the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion that any offense other than the traffic offense had been committed and that the search was therefore unconstitutional. The motion was denied and the driver entered a conditional guilty plea that preserved his right to appeal the ruling on the motion to suppress.

The Supreme Court vacated the conviction and held that police are required to have a reasonable suspicion to extend a traffic stop in order to conduct a drug dog sniff.   Police may still conduct drug dog sniffs at traffic stops if done during a reasonable time. What constitutes a “reasonable time” is of course a fact-specific question that would be determined by the trial court.

The author is a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney.