Reasonable Suspicion for Conducting a Dog Sniff Search in Wisconsin

By Reddin & Singer

Dog Sniff Search

Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, individuals stopped in periodic traffic stops cannot be subjected to overly invasive searches of their vehicles, or prolonged periods of being detained, without police officers having justification for doing so. When a suspicious vehicle or individual in a traffic stop leads to subsequent searches and eventual arrests, one of the most common claims by defendants at trial is that the evidence that the police uncovered should be suppressed because it was obtained without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. A recent case in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals looks at the specific question of what is required under the Constitution in order to justify holding a defendant for a prolonged period of time to conduct a dog sniff and search.

In United States v. Guidry, Guidry was stopped as part of a routine traffic stop because he was driving a car without license plates. When the police officer approached his vehicle, he thought he noticed a slight smell of marijuana coming from the car, but he could not tell if the smell emanated from inside or outside the vehicle. Accordingly, he determined he did not have probable cause to search the vehicle based on the smell alone. Instead, he asked Guidry for his license and returned to his car to complete routine paperwork. Upon seeing Guidry and reviewing his paperwork, the office realized that Guidry was an individual suspected within the department of buying and selling drugs. Based on this information and the smell, he called a fellow officer and requested a drug sniffing dog to inspect Guidry’s vehicle. Approximately five minutes after the call, the officer and the dog arrived. The two officers then approached Guidry’s vehicle and asked him to step out of the car so that they could conduct a dog sniff. Guidry initially objected, stating that he had not consented to a dog sniff, but he ultimately exited the vehicle.

The police dog immediately identified the smell of marijuana in the vehicle and alerted the officers. Guidry admitted that he had been smoking and that “half a blunt” was still in the car. The successful search of the vehicle ultimately led to an additional warrant to search Guidry’s home, where it was discovered that Guidry was selling a wide variety of narcotics and engaging in prostitution. Guidry was charged with several offenses.

At trial, Guidry moved to suppress the evidence obtained from his vehicle, arguing that his traffic stop had been improperly delayed and expanded to include the dog sniff, without a basis to do so. The magistrate disagreed, finding that the police officer had reasonable suspicion to call for a dog sniff. Guidry appealed.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the magistrate. The appellate court acknowledged that the Supreme Court has held that police officers may not impermissibly prolong a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff without reasonable suspicion, but it found that reasonable suspicion existed here. The court noted that the officer had detected the possible smell of marijuana smoke coming from the vehicle and was aware that the driver he had stopped was being investigated on suspicion of dealing drugs. These two facts gave the officer reasonable suspicion to investigate further and to call for a dog sniff. Additionally, the court noted that the second officer and dog arrived on the scene within five minutes of the initial call, and thus the dog sniff did not impermissibly prolong Guidry’s stop. Accordingly, the court affirmed the magistrate court’s decision.

If you were charged with a marijuana-related crime in Milwaukee and are concerned that you were improperly subjected to a dog sniff search, or that the scope of your traffic stop was unconstitutionally expanded, you should discuss possible actions in court, including a motion to suppress, with an experienced criminal lawyer as soon as possible. To speak with an experienced Wisconsin drug crimes attorney, contact the law offices of Reddin & Singer, LLP through our website or give us a call today at (414) 271-6400.