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West Palm Beach Criminal Lawyer / Blog / Drug Crimes / Probable Cause & Drug-Sniffing Dogs

Probable Cause & Drug-Sniffing Dogs


If you are ever stopped by law enforcement on suspicion of possessing illegal drugs, it can be a scary experience even if you have nothing to hide. Because of this, it is all too easy for many to remain unaware of their rights in such a situation, especially when all the stops are pulled out, so to speak. One common situation where people tend to not know their rights is when drug-sniffing dogs get involved. Dogs can give their handlers probable cause to arrest someone, but certain protocol must be followed.

A Sniff Is Not A Search

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the people against unlawful searches and seizures. Usually a search is unlawful when law enforcement has neither consent nor probable cause to search the person or location they wish to search. The concept of probable cause can be difficult to articulate, however; it is loosely defined as reasonable suspicion of criminality, but such a term is extremely subjective at the best of times.

If a trained dog sniffs or alerts their handler to the presence of illegal drugs, state and federal law has determined that this does not count as an “illegal search” for purposes of the Fourth Amendment prohibition. The rationale is that a search is looking to uncover evidence of wrongdoing; a dog’s sniff cannot discover evidence or establish criminality, only create a suspicion of either.

A Sniff Is Probable Cause

It is true that a dog’s sniff does not count as a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. However, because a sniff can create a reasonable presumption that a crime has been committed – namely, drug possession or possession with intent to sell – it does count as establishing probable cause. Probable cause, while no one singular definition exists, is understood to be a reasonable suspicion that evidence of a crime is present. If a dog trained to detect drugs signifies that it believes drugs are present, that fact creates reasonable suspicion.

When a court has to establish whether or not probable cause exists in a case, they evaluate the issue based on what is called the “totality of the circumstances.” If all of the clues and indications present in one moment would convince a reasonable person that evidence of a crime is discoverable, that will generally constitute probable cause. Because a trained drug-sniffing dog has such a high presumption of validity, their alerts can be the deciding factor in determining a search to be acceptable in a certain case.

Call A West Palm Beach Drug Offenses Attorney

If you have been charged with a drug crime, all or in part because of the evidence of a drug-sniffing dog, understand that the sniff can be probable cause – which, in turn, might have turned up the evidence of your alleged offense. If you need an experienced West Palm Beach drug crimes attorney to help with your case, the firm of Perlet & Shiner, P.A. can try to help. Call us today at (561) 721-0552 to speak to an attorney.

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