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Court rules against police car searches based solely on dog sniff

A ruling by the Colorado Court of Appeals could dramatically restrict the police’s use of drug-sniffing dogs to justify searching your car.

The court ruled earlier this month that a police dog’s indication that it smells drugs inside a person’s vehicle is not, on its own, enough to give officers permission to search the vehicle without the owner’s permission. The ruling changes the prior legal precedent and could greatly change how police conduct traffic stops in Colorado.

Marijuana and police dogs

It appears that the state’s legalization of marijuana was a major reason for the change in the law. As KDVR-TV reports, the judges noted that it is no longer illegal to have marijuana in your car. When a police dog performs a sniff and indicates that drugs are present, it cannot tell its handler what kind of drug it has allegedly detected. Therefore, the judges concluded, police must have more reason to search a car than the dog sniff alone.

The case

The ruling was related to a 2015 case in which officers pulled over a man for allegedly turning without signaling. An officer later came to the scene with a drug dog, which indicated that it could smell drugs. Based only on the dog’s reaction, police searched the car and found a pipe “commonly used to smoke meth.”

The driver was convicted of possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia. This appellate court ruling could lead to a new trial for the man.

How this affects you

It could also impact you if you are ever pulled over and your vehicle is searched based on a dog sniff. On the streets, you may not be able to keep the police from violating your right against unreasonable search and seizure. But an experienced criminal defense attorney would help you fight for your rights in court.

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