You are stopped for a traffic infraction. While the deputy is writing the citation, a second deputy comes on scene with a canine and conducts a “free air sniff” of the exterior of your vehicle. The dog alerts to the door handle on your car. Does this constitute probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of the interior of your vehicle? Believe it or not, the United States Supreme Court has held this to be a lawful search.
The issue of when a dog’s alert provides probable cause for a search hinges on the dog’s reliability as a detector of illegal substances within the vehicle. Until recently, Florida courts have held that evidence that the dog has been trained and certified to detect narcotics was sufficient in and of itself to establish the dog’s reliability for purposes of determining probable cause.
In 2011 the Florida Supreme Court raised the State’s burden for establishing that the officer had a reasonable basis for believing the dog to be reliable. In order to establish probable cause the State now must present the training and certification records, an explanation of the meaning of the particular training and certification of the dog, field performance records, and evidence concerning the experience and training of the officer handling the dog, as well as any other objective evidence known to the officer about the dog’s reliability in being able to detect the presence of illegal substances within the vehicle.
If you have been arrested for possession or trafficking as a result of a canine traffic stop, it is important to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney who can properly present a motion to suppress the seized evidence. The consequences of an adjudication of guilt can be severe and life changing.