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When Drug Dogs may be Called to a Traffic Stop

April 17, 2019

Dog found drugs in my car Cranford top attorneys

Police dogs, or K9 units, are sometimes called in to help police officers investigate drivers detained during traffic stops in New Jersey. These dogs are most famously trained to identify narcotics stored in a vehicle or in luggage and are sometimes referred to as “drug dogs.” The following is a brief look at when and why police may call in dogs to a traffic stop and common drug charges that arise after drug sniffing dogs are called to investigate. If you need assistance with a case involving cocaine, heroin, marijuana, or prescription drugs in Union County, contact our local criminal defense firm in Cranford, NJ at (908) 838-0150 to speak with a lawyer free of charge. 

Dog Searches in Union County Drug Cases

Police agencies in New Jersey and throughout the United States often employ specially-trained K9 units, or police dogs, to sweep and sniff cars or luggage for narcotics, explosives, weapons, and other items of interest to the police that they have trained the dogs to identify. If the dogs detect any of these items, they will “alert” their handling officer by performing some kind of movement. K9-assisted arrests typically involve narcotics, given that narcotics offenses are more common than gun-running or terrorism and associated explosives.

When Can Police Call the K9 Unit to Search my Car?

Police officers must have “reasonable suspicion” to detain a motorist for a traffic stop. This means that a police officer must have specific, articulable facts supporting their decision to conduct a brief detention to investigate potential criminal activity. Officers may not initiate a traffic stop based on a hunch or a whim; they must be able to identify specific facts supporting the stop. Typically, officers will conduct a traffic stop if they observe a violation of the New Jersey motor vehicle code. A traffic stop must not be unreasonably prolonged.

Following related decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, the New Jersey Supreme Court in State v. Dunbar determined that a drug dog may sniff around a vehicle at a traffic stop provided that the officers had reasonable suspicion to pull the car over in the first place. The officers do not need to establish further reasonable suspicion of narcotics activity for the dog to sniff the car. So long as the use of the drug dog did not unreasonably prolong the traffic stop, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that the police could use the dog.

Courts have indicated that a traffic stop generally encompasses an officer checking driver’s license information, proof of insurance, registration, and potentially checking for outstanding warrants. Waiting for additional officers to arrive so that a K9 sweep can be conducted it outside the ordinary course of a traffic stop and may unreasonably prolong the motorist’s detention. That said, if a K9 officer happens to pull over a vehicle and the drug dog alerts the officer to the presence of narcotics during that regular traffic stop, the New Jersey Supreme Court has indicated that the K9’s sweep does not require additional reasonable suspicion to detain the driver. But if the dog sniff did unreasonably prolong the traffic stop, the officers would need to establish further reasonable suspicion, beyond the initial reason for the stop, to justify prolonging the driver’s detention so that the dog could sweep the car.

Arrested for Drugs at a Traffic Stop in Mountainside, NJ

If you are facing criminal charges for having drugs in your vehicle, you are undoubtedly facing severe consequences. To avoid these repercussions and position yourself for the most favorable outcome, you need a skilled attorney who can vet all of your options and diligently pursue the best one. Our Union County drug defense lawyers have been serving clients in Mountainside, Elizabeth, Cranford, Scotch Plains, Plainfield, Summit, and Union County for nearly a decade. Call us at (908) 838-0150 for more information about how we can help fight your case. 

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