Drug Dogs and Traffic Stops
Delaying a traffic stop for a drug dog violates the 4th Amendment. The time for the traffic stop must not last significantly longer because the police want to have a dog check for drugs or other contraband.
Suppression of Evidence Seized in Violation of the Fourth Amendment
Here is an example of a 4th Amendment violation in Michigan. A person gets pulled over for a traffic infraction. During the stop, the officer gets a hunch that there is an illegal drug in the car. He asks for consent to search. The defendant declines. The officer calls for a drug dog and briefly detains the driver so the dog can search outside the car. The dog detects the scent of a controlled substance, and the officers search the vehicle finding evidence of a crime. Is the evidence admissible in court? The answer under Michigan and Federal law is NO!
In a recent decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals, People v. Kavanaugh, the Court of Appeals examined a situation where the driver was stopped by a Michigan State Police trooper based on two civil infractions. The driver recently purchased the car and did not have a registration. The officer directed the driver to come back to the patrol car and sit in the passenger seat while the officer verified his ownership of the car. The officer confirmed the driver’s ownership and asked for consent to search the vehicle. The driver declined. The officer told the driver to stay where he was and called a drug dog for a contraband sniff. The dog arrived after 15 minutes, alerted at the trunk, and the officers found a large amount of marijuana. What this a violation of the 4th Amendment?
The trial court denied the defendant’s Motion to Suppress, and the defendant was convicted. On appeal, he challenged the constitutionality of his detention by the officer. He claimed on appeal that the officer should have released him upon verifying he owned the car. He argued that the search was illegal because there was no reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity at the point when he declined the trooper’s request to search the car. Articulable means capable of being explained with words.
The government argued that there was no violation of the 4th Amendmendment because various things gave the officer reasonable suspicion. The Court of Appeals disagreed. In the ruling, the Court noted that a traffic law violation justifies a brief detention for addressing the traffic violation. The officer can extend the stop if additional evidence becomes known during the stop that causes the officer to have a reasonable and articulable belief of criminal activity. However, the officers cannot extend the stop duration to investigate a hunch of illegal activity.
Any detention beyond that necessary to address the traffic issue is a seizure.
In the ruling, the Court found that any detention beyond what is necessary to address the traffic issue is a seizure under the 4th Amendment and a potential constitutional violation. A seizure of a person occurs when a reasonable person would not feel free to leave. The officer legally seized Kavanaugh when he told Kavanaugh to sit and wait for the drug dog. If by the time the officer concludes resolving the traffic infraction, there is no reasonable and articulable basis to suspect the commission of a crime, the officer must release the suspect. If the suspect is not released, the judge will suppress any evidence found in violation of the 4th Amendment.
Refusing to consent to a search doesn’t create the basis for reasonable suspicion. Courts are clear that considering the suspect’s refusal or lack of consent violates the 4th Amendment. A driver’s nervousness or nonsensical statements do not form a reasonable suspicion unless the statements are about criminal activity.
So why is Kavanaugh not in prison, and why was his conviction reversed?
The answer is excellent lawyering! Legal representation that is not aggressive, effective, and zealous results in wrongful convictions and unnecessary jail sentences. A top criminal defense attorney is critical and can make the difference between a conviction and dismissal of charges. Regardless of whether the court finds a violation of the 4th Amendment, a top defense lawyer will keep fighting to give their client every possible advantage in court.
Your Best Defense for Felony and Misdemeanor Charges
If you or a loved one is charged with a state or federal criminal offense and you are looking to hire a lawyer who will provide the best possible legal representation, call LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. Our highly experienced defense lawyers will examine your case with a fine-toothed comb looking for a violation of the constitution, including the 4th Amendment, in our tenacious effort to get illegally seized evidence suppressed and thrown out of court. We will take the time to talk with you, answer your questions, and address each of your concerns. We will find a way to help you.
Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete a Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.