FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2013-04-29
The recent changes to marijuana laws within Colorado have led to many questions for both residents and law enforcement officers. Individuals need to learn the new rules in place to understand the use that is permitted, because some activities, including driving under the influence of the drug may still result in potential criminal charges.
For police, the changes are leading to changes in the way they investigate drug crimes, especially when it concerns the use of drug-detecting dogs. In Colorado, the dogs have all been trained in the past to alert to marijuana as an illegal substance. Now that it is legal, the dogs cannot simply be told to ignore the drug when it is detected.
When a dog alerts and an officer subsequently searches the individual, problems may arise if other drugs are also discovered. For example, if the individual has marijuana and another illegal drug in his or her possession, which drug is the dog alerting to? It can be difficult to show that the dog was in fact alerting to the illegal drug. When new dogs join the force, they are trained to not alert when marijuana is present.
The use of drug-detecting dogs has been an issue in two recently decided United States Supreme Court cases. Both of these decisions will have a major impact upon the way that police departments will be able to investigated suspected drug crimes.
In the first case, a police officer made a traffic stop and detected signs that indicated the motorist may have been under the influence of drugs. The officer asked the driver for permission to search the vehicle, which was declined. The officer then led his drug-detecting dog around the vehicle to conduct a free air search to see if the dog alerted to the presence of any drugs.
The dog indicated a potential hit on the door handle, which allowed the officer to search the vehicle. Drug-making materials were located as part of these search. The Court ruled that the use of the dog in this case was appropriate, and allowed the evidence against the individual to be admitted.
In the second case, police received a tip that a homeowner was growing marijuana inside a residence. When officers went to the home, they took a drug-detecting dog to the front porch. The dog alerted at the door of the house, and police used this to obtain a search warrant. Drugs were found inside the home. The Court ruled that an individual has a right to privacy in his or her home, and declared that this use of the dog was unconstitutional.
These cases show that police must follow certain procedures when a drug-detecting dog is being used. If they violate an individual’s rights against unlawful searches, the evidence may be excluded.
With the recent changes to Colorado marijuana laws, the use of drug-detecting dogs may become a more important issue going forward. Officials will need to implement certain policies to ensure that the dogs are only tracking illegal substances.
Individuals charged with drug possession or other drug crimes should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss their case. An attorney can help you protect your rights, and ensure that the actions of the police are carefully reviewed.