Are There Defenses Against Searches by Police Dogs?

During the course of a criminal investigation, law enforcement officers will use every tool, strategy, and tactic available to get results. One of those “tools” that has increased immensely in use over the past several decades is the use of police dogs, or “K-9” officers. There are several reasons why the use of police dogs has increased, including the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States, or SCOTUS, has continuously handed down lenient rulings with regard to issues of constitutionality relating to K-9 searches. Consequently, police dogs are frequently used to search for illegal contraband such as drugs or explosives. If you are currently facing criminal charges in a case where a search was conducted using a K-9 unit you may be wondering “Are there defenses against searches by police dogs?”

While every search by a police dog involves a unique set of facts and circumstances, there are some common defenses or challenges to a K-9 search, including:

·Initial stop /encounter – despite what many people believe, an officer must have a valid reason for making an initial stop in the case of a traffic stop. The same applies if a different type of search was conducted, such as a search of your luggage. The first potential area of defense is the initial reason for contact with the police.


Training – was the police dog properly trained? Don’t ever assume that just because the dog is a K-9 unit that he/she has had the proper training.


Fourth Amendment – whether or not a search by a K-9 unit is a “search and seizure” for purposes of the Fourth Amendment depends on the circumstances and is an area of the law that is subject to change at any time. Luggage searches and searches of the exterior of a vehicle have long been considered to be outside the purview of the 4th Amendment; however, if the 4th Amendment can be invoked it raises the issue of whether or not a search warrant was required, providing a possible defense.


Length of stop – a K-9 search during a traffic stop is not considered a search only if the stop “does not extend beyond the time necessary to issue a ticket or conduct inquiries that are instant to the stop.” If a suspect is held longer than that in order for a K-9 unit to arrive it may provide a defense to the search.


Area searched – when the search is of a vehicle, the exterior of the vehicle may be searched without obtaining a search warrant. Conversely though, a dog sniff at the front door of your house usually requires a warrant.

The law regarding searches by police dogs is complex and subject to change at any time. If you are facing charges involving a K-9 search, consult with the experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorneys at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby immediately to discuss potential defenses. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.


Dinah Michael