To detect drugs, police officers will often use specially trained dogs. You may find them in traffic stops or other locations. The goal is for the dog to alert the police officer if it smells illegal drugs, and that alert is then probable cause for the officer to search the individual or their vehicle.
In fact, dogs are so useful in this capacity that police officers will come sometimes call them “probable cause on four legs.” However, this nickname also reveals a dark side to the whole process, in that these dogs are unreliable and the police officers often know it.
Alerting in every case
For instance, there’s a famous case of a dog that was trained to search for drugs during traffic stops. Once that dog was put into action, it always alerted the officers that it had found drugs. It did this 100% of the time, in every single case in which it was involved.
This may have given the officers probable cause to search vehicles or individuals, but it also shows just how unreliable and imperfect these dogs are. Clearly, this dog did not encounter illegal drugs during every single traffic stop. That means that a lot of innocent motorists were subjected to searches that never should have happened. It also means that some individuals may have been arrested when officers never should have been conducting a search in the first place.
Probable cause is a very important part of police work. Officers have to follow the right steps and they cannot violate an individual’s rights simply to try to make an arrest. They have to do everything in the right order, and that often means having probable cause first.
But having dogs that will give them probable cause 100% of the time means that the system no longer works as intended. This is unfair to any individuals who encounter that dog, whether they’ve broken the law or not. These dogs are supposed to help police officers, not give them the right to conduct any search they want, at any time.
Were your rights violated?
If you are facing charges and you believe that your rights were violated because the police didn’t follow the proper procedures, then it’s incredibly important for you to understand all of your legal defense options.