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Apr. 24 2019

Illinois Drug-Sniffing Dogs: When Are They Legal?

Posted By: Sami Azhari

Illinois Drug-Sniffing Dogs: When Are They Legal?

Music festival season is coming soon in Illinois — but the fun of Lollapalooza or Pitchfork may come to a halt once festival-goers see drug-sniffing dogs. In 2014 alone, 34 people were arrested and over 100 were issued citations at Lollapalooza thanks to the work of drug-sniffing dogs.

However, if you know anything about how search and seizure works in America, something may seem like it doesn’t add up. After all, police are supposed to need a reason to search people. In many cases, they also need a warrant.

So, how can they legally search tens of thousands of people every single day at a music festival? When are drug-sniffing dogs part of an unlawful search and seizure?

Reasonable Expectation Of Privacy in Illinois

Here’s the thing. Reasonable expectation of privacy means different things depending on where you are.

In other words, it is legal for police dogs to enter a public school or a festival and sniff for drugs because those are not private places. However, it is not legal for them to walk around someone’s neighborhood and search individual homes for drugs without a warrant.

Why? At home, people have the reasonable expectation of privacy. If the police want to search someone’s home — or anywhere where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy — they need a warrant or probable cause to believe that someone is in possession of drugs.

Short version?

Home = reasonable expectation of privacy. Music festival? Not so much. Car…? That’s when things get tricky in Illinois.

Illinois v. Caballes

This issue came up in Illinois v. Caballes. The defendant was initially pulled over for speeding, but was caught with marijuana after a drug-sniffing dog walked around their car.

Note that they weren’t pulled over on suspicion of possessing drugs — they were pulled over for speeding. Does this give police a right to walk around the car with the dogs?

The Illinois Supreme Court says yes. They ruled in favor of the State, arguing that cars at a traffic stop do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The Supreme Court also said that since the dogs were searching for illegal substances — something that is not in the privacy interests of individual citizens — their search and the evidence found against the defendant was valid.

Does that mean police can have dogs waiting to sniff your car so they can arrest you for any  drugs that they might find in the vehicle? Not so fast.

When Sniffing Cars Can Be Illegal Illinois

Not all Supreme Court cases have ruled in favor of drug-sniffing dogs. Rodriguez v. U.S. ruled in favor of the defendant after his car was sniffed by dogs and he was arrested for possessing methamphetamine. This case sounds similar to the one above — so why was the ruling different?

In this case, the police pulled the defendant over for driving on the shoulder in an illegal zone. After about 20 minutes of collecting his documents and issuing a ticket, the officer asked the man if he would consent to a dog sniffing his car. He said no, but agreed to step out of the vehicle. The dog walked around to sniff the car anyway and found drugs.

So, why did the defendant win this case? Because the search was conducted after he was forced to wait for 20 minutes. The Court said that officers cannot prolong a traffic stop or detain someone to wait for a dog to sniff someone’s car. If the dog had come to sniff the car while the officer was issuing the driver a ticket, the result of the case might be different.

Remember, Illinois Drug-Sniffing Dogs Are Not Infallible

There is another exception to this rule. If you have been arrested due to a drug-sniffing dog, you have the right to (and absolutely should) question the dog’s abilities.

Illinois Drug Crimes Lawyer

That’s right. Drug-sniffing dogs are far from perfect. In fact, drug-sniffing dogs are more often wrong than right when they alert officers about the presence of drugs in a vehicle. If the dog is found to be unreliable, the evidence against you might be thrown out.

Additionally, there are alternative defense strategies available if you have been unlawfully searched by a drug-sniffing dog. Reach out to a Chicago criminal defense lawyer to start fighting back.


About the Author

Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases, and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by SuperLawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Association, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.