I recently had a criminal case where my client was pulled over for allegedly speeding.
The canine officer who pulled him over quickly moved from the speeding accusation to
requesting consent to search my client’s vehicle. When my client declined, the officer walked his
canine around the vehicle, whereupon the dog “alerted” to the presence of “illicit drugs.” Is this
a legal search?

When pulled over for an alleged traffic offense, the officer must restrict his duties to
resolving the traffic offense. Many officers attempt to draw out the process of issuing a traffic
citation to allow a canine officer to arrive. I have seen other cases where the officer tells the
driver that they can wait for the canine unit or the driver can “save time” by allowing the officer
to search the vehicle.

If the officer who stopped the vehicle is himself a canine officer, they often do not advise
a driver that they are free to go. Instead, they may attempt to gain “consent” to the improper
search or simply conduct the canine “search.”

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, however, provides that no
person shall be subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures and that no warrant shall be
issued except based upon probable cause. In Maxwell v. State, 785 So. 2d 1277, 1279 (Fla. 5th
DCA 2001), the Court held that, absent a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, officers may
not detain a vehicle any longer than is necessary to issue the traffic citation. Unless the officer
has a reasonable suspicion of such criminal activity, an officer’s detention of a driver for long
than the time reasonably necessary to issue a traffic ticket is improper. See Sanchez v. State, 785
So. 2d 1043 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003).

In my case, I filed a Motion to Suppress all evidence seized during this improper search.
The Court granted my motion and, because the issue was dispositive of the case, dismissed the
entire matter.

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