The Effect of Legal Hemp on Drug Dog Sniffs (Part II)

Last week, in Part I of this series, I discussed whether having a drug dog sniff a vehicle is a search if the drug dog might alert upon smelling hemp, a substance that is legal to possess. Today’s post focuses on what may be an even more significant question: if a dog alerts, does the alert provide probable cause to search?

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The Effect of Legal Hemp on Drug Dog Sniffs (Part I)

Hemp and hemp products are now legal under state and federal law. Hemp is the same plant as marijuana and contains the same chemical compounds, though in different concentrations. Could a drug dog trained to detect marijuana alert on legal hemp? If so, does that impact whether a dog sniff is a search under the Fourth Amendment? And does it mean that a drug dog’s alert no longer provides probable cause to search a vehicle? This two-part series tackles those questions.

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Update on U.S. Supreme Court’s Ruling in Rodriguez v. United States Concerning Extension of Traffic Stops

Last April, the United States Supreme Court in Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), significantly limited the scope of a traffic stop. The officer in Rodriguez completed a traffic stop for driving on the shoulder of a highway after checking the vehicle registration and driver’s licenses of the driver and passenger, conducting a warrant check, returning all documents, and issuing the driver a warning ticket. The officer then asked the driver for consent to walk his drug dog around the vehicle, but the driver refused to give his consent. Nonetheless, the officer told the driver to turn off the ignition, leave the vehicle, and wait for a second officer. When the second officer arrived, the first officer walked his drug dog around the car, and the dog alerted to the presence of drugs. A search of the vehicle revealed methamphetamine. Seven to eight minutes had elapsed from the time the officer issued the written warning until the dog’s alert.

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Drug Dogs and Checkpoints

I’ve had several questions about the role of drug dogs at motor vehicle checkpoints. The details are below, but a quick summary of the law is as follows:

(1) Officers can’t lawfully run drug dogs around every vehicle stopped at a checkpoint

(2) Officers can lawfully run drug dogs around cars that are pulled out of line for additional investigation, so long as the use of dog doesn’t substantially lengthen the stop

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Florida v. Jardines: Bringing a Drug Dog to the Front Porch Is a Search

Today, most Supreme Court watchers are focused on the oral argument in the same-sex marriage cases. But the Court also released an important opinion in Florida v. Jardines, ruling that an officer conducts a Fourth Amendment search when he brings a drug dog onto the porch of a house to sniff the front door. Jardines … Read more

Supreme Court: Alert by a Trained or Certified Drug Dog Normally Provides Probable Cause

Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided Florida v. Harris, holding that when a trained and certified drug dog alerts on a vehicle, that normally provides probable cause to search the car, even if there are no records proving that the dog has previously performed well at detecting drugs in the field. I mentioned Harris in my … Read more


State v. Smith: Dog Alerts and Particularized Suspicion

Last August, the court of appeals in State v. Smith, ___ N.C. App. ___, 729 S.E.2d 120, temp. stay granted, __ N.C. __, 731 S.E.2d 179 (mem.) (2012), decided an issue of first-impression related to a drug dog alert and the reasonableness of an ensuing Fourth Amendment search. Since we haven’t yet blogged about Smith, … Read more