A drug dog with his owner
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Seeing flashing lights in your rearview mirror during a traffic stop can be intimidating, especially if you were pulled over for a minor traffic violation. In these situations, it may be daunting to assert your rights — especially when drug dogs are involved. 

While trained K-9s can be a valuable tool for law enforcement, some sniff searches can infringe upon your Fourth Amendment rights. Knowing when it is legal for an officer to use a drug dog in South Carolina can help you navigate these encounters while protecting your right to privacy. 

When can the police use a dog to sniff a car for drugs?

During the 2015 case Rodriguez v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that dog sniffs are classified as “searches” during a traffic stop. This means that officers may only search if your situation meets one of these requirements:

Consent to a Search

If you give consent for the police to search your vehicle, they may use K-9s to sniff for drugs. Any evidence found during this type of search can be used against you, so it’s best to be cautious when voluntarily allowing an officer to search your vehicle. 

Warrant From a Judge

Warrants are issued by a judge and supported by probable cause. If an officer has one, failing to comply with a search can lead to legal trouble down the line. With that being said, you have the right to observe the search and ensure it strictly adheres to the parameters outlined in the warrant. 

Probable Cause

Probable cause refers to the reasonable belief that a crime is being committed. To conduct a K-9 car search on probable cause, an officer has to have evidence that suggests you have illegal substances in your vehicle. Evidence for probable cause could include:

  • Noticeable odor of drugs 
  • Erratic behavior of the driver
  • Visible evidence of illegal substances
  • Incriminating statements

Without a warrant, determining probable cause can be a sticky situation. If you believe a search was conducted without legal justification, it’s vital to consult a criminal defense attorney for personalized advice. 

What if the police illegally search your vehicle?

If your situation doesn’t meet one of the three key requirements for a search, law enforcement cannot legally detain you any longer than necessary to address the original reason for the traffic stop. 

Should an officer search your vehicle using drug dogs without your consent, a warrant, or probable cause, they may be violating your right to privacy. If you believe your car is being subjected to an illegal search, you will want to follow these steps:

Assert Your Rights

Verbally say that you do not consent to a search. If the police say they have a warrant, ask to see the physical copy.

Remain Calm

If the officer continues searching your vehicle, try to remain respectful and avoid being argumentative or aggressive. 

Collect Details

Ask all officers present for their names and badge numbers. Write out as much information as possible about the circumstances leading up to and during the search. 

Obtain Witness Information

If possible, get contact information from any witnesses who observed the search. 

After the search, consult with a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss what happened and determine what actions you should take next. An experienced attorney can guide you through the process of challenging unlawful evidence and rectifying any violations of your privacy. 

Consult a South Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney Today

In the moments of distress following an unlawful drug dog sniff during a traffic stop in South Carolina, it’s paramount to seek professional guidance to protect your rights. At the Law Office of Mo Abusaft, our criminal defense team is dedicated to providing support to those who have experienced an unwarranted intrusion into their privacy. 

Proudly serving clients in Spartanburg, SC, and the surrounding area, we can fight hard to protect your rights and ensure your voice is heard. Contact us to schedule your consultation with us today.