New Colorado marijuana law addresses future of drug-sniffing dogs
The Colorado Sun
Colorado’s Supreme Court on Monday ruled 4-3 that a sniff of a car by police dogs trained to smell for marijuana in addition to other drugs constitutes a search — which is a big deal that doesn’t really sink in at first.
To search someone’s car, police need evidence of a crime. When the case was argued before the court late last year, lots of the talk focused on whether an alert from a pot-trained dog was enough to give police reason to dig through someone’s car looking for drugs. After all, if possession of small amounts of marijuana is now legal, how does the officer know that the dog is barking because it smells a crime?
But the majority in this case — named People v. McKnight, after a guy whose car was searched in Craig because of the bark of a police dog that was a holdover from pre-legalization days — went further. The justices said simply bringing out a pot-trained dog to sniff around now constitutes a search, in and of itself. As in, it’s something that police have to have evidence in order to do.
“The dog’s sniff arguably intrudes on a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy in lawful activity,” Justice William Hood wrote in the majority’s ruling. “If so, that intrusion must be justified by some degree of particularized suspicion of criminal activity.”
But, if police already have probable cause, they would most likely just search the car directly, themselves. Hence, this ruling almost certainly puts Colorado’s pot-trained police dogs into retirement.
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