Anyone who spends any significant amount of time driving on Interstate 80 through Nebraska can’t help but notice the police presence along the roadway. If you live or work in Nebraska you probably already know why I-80 is so heavily patrolled. For those who are not already aware, it relates to the drug trafficking corridor that runs along Interstate 80. Regardless of why so many law enforcement officers are patrolling the interstate, if one of them pulls you over and eventually conducts a K-9 search, is that legal? An Omaha I-80 drug stop attorney discusses the use and legality of K-9 searches.
Interstate 80 and the Drug Trade
Despite law enforcement efforts over the last several decades to put a stop to the vast quantities of illegal drugs entering the United States, those drugs continue to make their way into the U.S. Illicit drugs enter the U.S. from all sides and via a wide variety of methods; however, one of the most common routes and methods involves drugs entering through the southern Mexico/U.S. border. One of the most common routes traffickers take once inside the U.S. is to head north toward Denver and then take Interstate 80 west to the Pacific Coast and east toward the New England states. Consequently, law enforcement agencies whose jurisdiction includes I-80 are always on the lookout for drug traffickers. Not surprisingly, the case that set the current precedent for the constitutionality of K-9 searches is a case out of Nebraska (discussed below). While this increased police presence and heightened awareness may be great for the War on Drugs, it can be a bit frightening to the average motorist during what should be a routine stop.
When a Routine Stop Turns into a K-9 Search
For the average, law-abiding citizen a traffic stop is certainly an inconvenience, but should be nothing worse. If you happen to be traveling down I-80 and see lights in your rearview mirror, however, that routine traffic stop could turn into something more. What should you do if the officer appears to suspect that you have drugs hidden in the vehicle? Can the officer call a K-9 unit to come and “search” your vehicle? Most people have never been in such a situation and, therefore, have no idea ho. w to react.
For quite some time there was even confusion within the law about the legality of canine “sniff” searches. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures and generally requires a warrant, based on probable cause, before a search can be conducted. The warrant requirement, however, has been watered down over the years by the courts. The “expectation of privacy,” or lack thereof, is often used to analyze whether a warrant is required before conducting a search. It is precisely that lack of an expectation of privacy that the courts used to allow warrantless searches of vehicles. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Illinois v. Caballes, also held that a motorist does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the smell of his vehicle. Therefore, a K-9 sniff search does not require a warrant.
There is, however, an important limit to the ability of the police to conduct a K-9 search of your vehicle. After the ruling in Caballes, law enforcement officers would frequently call in a K-9 officer for all traffic stops, frequently resulting in a motorist sitting by the roadside for long periods of time waiting for the K-9 officer to arrive. Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the issue of K-9 searches in the Nebraska case of Rodriguez v. U.S; however, this time SCOTUS decided that this practice is a violation of a motorist’s rights. Specifically, the Court said a dog sniff is legal only if it doesn’t extend the detention “beyond the time reasonably to complete” the traffic stop. In other words, an officer cannot constitutionally extend the time required for completing the stop for any period of time—no matter how brief—to conduct a dog sniff in the absence of consent or a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. As applied to the real world, if you are stopped for speeding and the officer has had more than sufficient time to check your license and issue you a speeding ticket, the stop must end at that point. The officer cannot legally detain you while he/she waits for a K-9 officer to arrive.
Contact an Omaha I-80 Drug Stop Attorney at Petersen Law Office
If you have been charged with a drug-related criminal offense in the State of Nebraska, do not hesitate to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case.