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Can Police Use a Drug-Sniffing Dog on My Car (Part II)?

A previous post explored the legality of “free air sniffs” by drug-sniffing dogs and their K-9 officer handlers of the area around the car of an individual pulled over for a routine traffic violation. While a K-9 officer cannot unreasonably detain you in order to perform a “free air sniff” without probable cause and the K-9 officer cannot search inside your vehicle without either your consent or an “alert” from the dog, “free air sniffs” by drug-sniffing dogs have been approved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Having a K-9 officer perform a “free air sniff” is enough to rattle the nerves of even the most innocent and blameless Florida driver. Knowing what to do when a “free air sniff” is performed can help you calm yourself and take appropriate action before, during, and after the “free air sniff” is performed.

Before the “Free Air Sniff”

  • When you see that officers are attempting to pull you over (i.e., you see the police vehicle’s emergency lights turn on), pull over in a well-lit and safe area if there is such an area nearby.
  • Cooperate with the police in providing your driver’s license, registration, and insurance information.
  • You do not need to answer the officer’s questions. Think carefully about whether you want to provide information to the officer. If you do decide to speak with the officer, do not volunteer any additional information beyond that which the officer requests.
  • The K-9 officer should request that you roll your windows up at least halfway before initiating the “free air sniff”. If the officer does not make such a request, ask the officer for permission to do so. This is to prevent the dog from jumping through your window and into your car, possibly causing you serious injury.
  • Obtain the name of the K-9 officer and the dog. This can be helpful in determining if this particular drug-sniffing dog has a history of “false positives” – alerting for the presence of drugs when in fact there are no such drugs present.

During the “Free Air Sniff”

  • During the “free air sniff” remain in your vehicle and do not make sudden movements that could be interpreted as attempting to conceal illegal drugs or to reach for a weapon.
  • Take note of the precise time it takes the K-9 officer to complete the “free air sniff.”
  • Pay attention to the officer who is handling your traffic ticket: is he or she waiting for the “free air sniff” to be completed or is he or she busy writing your citation?
  • If you are asked to exit your vehicle so that it can be searched, cooperate with the police. You may be charged with additional offenses if you interfere with or impede their investigation. Any violation of your constitutional rights can be handled appropriately later during your criminal case.

After the “Free Air Sniff”

  • Take note of the length of time you are stopped and detained by police.
  • Be on alert for words from the officer(s) indicating you are free to leave. Some officers will attempt to continue conversing with you after telling you that you are free to go in hopes that you will continue to talk with them, thereby giving them additional time to formulate probable cause to detain, search, and/or arrest you.
  • Contact your South Florida criminal defense attorney right away, especially if you fear serious misdemeanor and/or felony charges will be filed against you. Attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner is an experienced criminal defense attorney and is able to advise Florida residents on how to protect their interests and liberties in the event of a “free air sniff.” You can reach his office at (305) 670-9919 or you may contact his office online.
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