Drug-sniffing dogs give law enforcement the ability to detect illegal drugs that would otherwise be hidden from view. For this reason, these canine officers are common at airports and international borders.
What happens if police use a drug-sniffing canine during a standard traffic stop, though? Is it legal for Texas cops to walk a drug detection dog around outside of your car, and would drug trafficking charges stemming from such a search hold up in court?
The short answer is yes, but with limits.
If you’re caught with narcotics by a drug-sniffing dog, police must have followed proper search and seizure protocol. If police do not adhere to these protocols, any narcotics you’re in possession of are not admissible as evidence, meaning your drug crime charges are likely to be dropped.
Below, we’re going to review the laws surrounding the use of drug dogs, including the circumstances under which drug dogs are allowed, and your rights in this situation.
Texas Police Need a Reason to Stop You
First of all, what was the reason for the stop?
Regardless of whether a drug dog was present or not, police need a legitimate reason to stop you. Minor traffic violations such as speeding, running a light, or having expired tags will suffice.
However, traffic stops without valid justification are not legal, and any evidence of illegal substances obtained in such a stop will not be admissible as evidence, meaning that drug trafficking charges will likely be dropped.
Police in Texas Cannot Detain You to Wait for a Dog
Here’s an interesting one. If police stop you, they are not allowed to detain you to wait for a drug dog without good reason. In 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled in Rodriguez v. US that police cannot extend a routine traffic stop for longer than it would otherwise have lasted for the purpose of bringing a drug dog to the scene.
For example, if you’re pulled over for a broken tail light, the police are not allowed to detain you for a period longer than would be necessary to check your license and proof of insurance and issue a citation.
If the officers require you to wait at the scene for a dog to arrive without some other basis for prolonging the stop, a court may find the delay to be unreasonable, and any drugs recovered from your car may be excluded from evidence.
Who Can Use a Drug Sniffing Dog and Under what Circumstances?
Nearly every state and federal law enforcement agency has access to drug-sniffing dogs. The Texas Department of Safety has dogs that are routinely used for traffic stops on drug corridors, including Highway 287 east and Highway US 87. Drug dogs are also likely to be used on routes back from Colorado, where marijuana is legal.
So long as police have a reason to stop you, they are allowed to walk a drug dog around the exterior of your vehicle without a warrant. However, allegations such as going 1-2 miles over the speed limit are not reasonable.
How Can Texans Know if a Police Dog Smells Drugs?
Many people want to know what happens when a dog detects drugs or other contraband. This will depend on the dog’s training.
Dogs are generally trained to give either an aggressive alert or a passive alert. In an aggressive alert, dogs will bite, paw, scratch, or attempt to penetrate a container. In a passive alert, dogs may either sit down next to the area they’re alerting, or point their nose right on the area that they’re alerting. Regardless of the type of alert, dogs will generally look intently at their handler to get their handler’s attention.
The real takeaway here is that police are allowed to use drug dogs during traffic stops – provided certain criteria are met. However, you should describe the stop and apprehension in detail to your criminal defense attorney, who will be able to pick up on any potential violations of your rights.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.