September 18, 2020

A question often asked is “When can the police use a drug-sniffing dog on you?” As you might expect, the answer is going to differ depending on the circumstances. 

Stopped for a Traffic Violation

When you’re driving your car, if the police stop you for any valid reason — It could be because they have a suspicion that you’re committing a crime or it could be just because of speeding or some other civil traffic violation. As long as you’re legally stopped, the police are allowed walk a dog around the exterior of that car.  The law doesn’t even consider this to be a search.   The police  don’t need a warrant or any suspicion of criminal activity whatsoever.   The law says that you don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the dog sniffing around the exterior of your car for illegal drugs. However, the detention cannot be prolonged for an unreasonable period of time.  If that occurred the police would need greater justification, than just a traffic stop. 

Very Different If Done at Your Home

However, conversely, the same type of search for your home would not be permitted.  The police aren’t allowed to walk around your house, in your yard and your front porch with a drug sniffing dog without any proper basis,  even if they don’t go inside.  In this scenario, the police would need a search warrant or probable cause and some really good reason for not getting a search warrant. They call these exceptions to the requirement to get a warrant.  The exceptions are very narrow, so in most circumstances, the police would need a warrant to use a drug sniffing dog at your home. .

Walking Down the Street

Another situation might be where you are walking down the street and the police stop you and want to use a drug dog to sniff your purse or your backpack or luggage you might be carrying. That’s a whole different animal (no pun intended).

Under those circumstances, the police would need what they call reasonable suspicion to stop you in the first place.  This means some particular credible information that you are committing a crime involving drugs. 

However, even if the dog alerts on the bag, meaning that they smell some drugs and alert the police officer through some trained gesture (like barking or sitting down), the police still can’t open that bag. The police officer would have to then use that information as well as any other information they had gathered lawfully to apply for a search warrant from the Court before they could open your bag.

What About the Dog Sniffing Your Body?

There are different circumstances where the police may or may not be able to use a drug-sniffing dog to sniff you, as opposed to a bag, your car, or your house. Unfortunately, in Massachusetts there’s no clear case on this just yet. My belief is that if brought before the court what the court would likely do is say the police would need to have at least a reasonable suspicion to stop that person in the first place.   Then also have at least reasonable suspicion, if not, then a  probable cause to believe you possessed drugs, before they let the dogs sniff all over you, and your chest, and your pants, and everywhere else. That’s my belief. However, I have to say that it does not appear that the courts have come out with a clear decision on this in Massachusetts. 

If you have any questions  please feel free to give me a call or shoot me an email, I’d be happy to speak with you about it.