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That's Ruff: Dog Sniff not a Search, No Warrant Needed 6th Rules

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

A man stopped for speeding and arrested for possessing a kilo of heroin did not have his Fourth Amendment rights violated when police detained him so that a dog could sniff his car, the Sixth Circuit ruled on Tuesday. Sniffing out a car isn't a search under the Fourth, the court held, and does not implicate a citizen's reasonable expectation of privacy.

The case, United States v. Winters, challenged the further detention of Patrick Winters after he was pulled over and issued a speeding ticket and the use of the dog to sniff his car without a warrant.

A dog sniff which only reveals contraband is not a search under the Fourth Amendment under the Supreme Court's ruling in Illinois v. Caballes. Winters had argued that the Court's holding in Florida v. Jardines required a more "searching" analysis. In Jardines, the Court found a dog sniff was a search when conducted on the porch of a private home without consent and thus required both probable cause and a warrant. The Sixth easily differentiated -- this was a rental car, not your home, and thus the same privacy rights were not implicated.

The Terry Clocks A'Ticking, We Presume

Sixth Circuit precedent holds that any de minimus extension of a completed stop is unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment without further justification, leading the Sixth to assume here that the "Terry clock," the ambiguous length an officer can reasonably detain someone in a traffic stop, was reset after Winters' ticket was issued. As such, further detention must be subject to reasonable-suspicion analysis. SCOTUS will decide whether further reasonable suspicion is actually needed to extend a stop soon.

Here, determining whether an officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity is based on the "totality of the circumstances." What were circumstances? Winters had a car, rented in another's name, taken from Georgia that day and due in Chicago that night, though Winters said he was traveling to Atlanta -- and, to hear the officers tell it, Winters was a nervous mess.

That's good reasonable suspicion for the Sixth, though the court notes it was a "close case."

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