The Omaha Drug Attorney Guide to Drug Sniffing Dogs

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Drug cases can be extremely complicated, and that’s why you need a skilled Omaha drug attorney, like Dan Stockmann, to help you win your case. Drug traffic stop and search cases can be especially difficult. If you have been arrested for drugs on the road and a drug sniffing dog was involved, you probably want to know what rules and regulations officers have to follow. Here, Omaha drug attorney Dan Stockmann explains your legal rights:

Traffic Stops and Reasonable Suspicion

Before searching a vehicle, the officer must have what is known as probable cause, meaning that their belief that a crime has occurred should be backed up by evidence. The evidence could be physical, information from witnesses, or the officer’s own observations, but must go beyond mere suspicion. In fact, the preliminary hearing is sometimes referred to as “probable cause hearing,” and is specifically designed to evaluate the evidence for any probable cause scenarios.

In these proceedings, it will be determined if the officer had probable cause, the belief that a crime occurred or was occurring, or reasonable suspicion, giving the officer the right to detain and frisk the suspect. But really, neither probable cause nor reasonable suspicion is needed to call on a drug sniffing dog to the scene during a routine traffic stop. This was established by the Supreme Court in Illinois v. Caballes, in which Roy Caballes was pulled over for speeding and subsequently arrested for marijuana trafficking after a drug dog was brought to the scene and alerted on his vehicle.

In a 6-2 ruling, the Court sided with the state, with Justice John Paul Stevens writing that drug sniffing dog searches did not violate Fourth Amendment rights. He felt that the expectation of privacy did not extend to illegal narcotics. In this case, any positive signal may be deemed probable cause to perform a search. If the drug dog signals that it smells drugs, the arresting officer then has probable cause to conduct a search.

You do, however, have some protection in this situation; for instance, an officer cannot detain you indefinitely, or even for an unreasonable amount of time while waiting for the drug dog to arrive. Basically, if the arresting officer cannot bring the drug dog to the scene in the time it takes to run your tags and write a ticket, the use of the dog becomes constitutionally suspect.

So if you’re pulled over and the officer threatens to call in the K-9 unit, you are not required to consent to searches. While waiting on the dog to arrive, you also have the right to determine if it is suitable for you to leave by directly asking if you are free to go. If the officer refuses and proceeds to detain you until the dogs come, you have the right to remain silent and continue to refuse to consent to a dog sniff, even if the officer claims you have to consent.

You should be aware that unlocking your car for the officer or handing over your keys is the same as consent. If a judge determines that the officer had no justification to detain you, any evidence discovered by the drug dog may be thrown out in court.

The Accuracy of Drug Sniffing Dogs

For literally thousands of years, dogs have been used by human beings for their incredible sense of smell, as their noses contain more than 200 million receptors (compared to the 10 million humans possess). Some breeds even have the amazing ability to detect certain scents of objects which are completely submerged in water, which is very useful for law enforcement because drug smugglers frequently try and mask the smell of drugs with another substance.

This is not to say that a dog’s sense of smell is infallible, and the accuracy of many a drug sniffing dog has been called into question in court. The American Society of Canine Trainers (ASCT) even admits to the surprisingly poor accuracy rates of drug sniffing dogs, pointing out averages as low as 62% (Currency Searches, 2015).

There are many reasons and variables for this staggeringly low accuracy rate. Sometimes a trained drug dog’s nose is even too powerful, and may lead to the detection of trace scents left behind by drugs which are no longer physically present. It should also be considered that there is a huge difference between what a dog can do, versus what a dog actually does. What the dog actually does is almost completely dependent on the training received, for which there are no required national standards for certification. Furthermore, regardless of how effective or ineffective a dog may actually be, it is capable of acting on its own behalf and as a result, it may be nearly impossible to ascertain the motivation for any particular response.

Certainly we would like to believe that these animals are selfless and devoted to satisfying their handlers, yet that in itself could be problematic. Dog handlers can accidentally cue alerts from their dogs by leading them too slowly or too many times around a vehicle.

Contact Omaha Drug Attorney Dan Stockmann

Never assume that just because police are in a position of power, they are always right.  If you feel you were subjected to an unlawful drug search, you deserve to have the matter investigated by an experienced Omaha drug attorney. The accomplished legal team at Stockmann Law has specialized in these kinds of cases for over 20 years, and has a track record of winning.

To set up a free and completely confidential case evaluation, call our law offices at (844) 545-3022 today.  We will always keep your information private.


Currency Searches. (2015). Retrieved from The American Society of Canine Trainers: