Court: Scent not enough for car search

by Charles Ashby | GJSentinel.com  |  published on July 17, 2017

police_officer_checksThe indication by a drug-sniffing police dog to the presence of controlled substances in a vehicle by itself is not enough to constitute probable cause for police to search that vehicle, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

In a precedent-setting case involving a Moffat County resident, a three-judge panel agreed that a police officer needs more cause to search a vehicle without permission from its owner.

That’s because it could be legal marijuana, the court ruled.

“Because Amendment 64 legalized possession for personal use of one ounce or less of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older in Colorado, it is no longer accurate to say, at least as a matter of state law, that an alert by a dog which can detect marijuana — but not specific amounts — can reveal only the presence of ‘contraband,’” Judge Daniel Dailey wrote in the ruling, which was joined by Judges Michael Berger and Jerry Jones.

“A dog sniff could result in an alert with respect to something for which, under Colorado law, a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy,” the court added. “Because a dog sniff of a vehicle could infringe upon a legitimate expectation of privacy solely under state law, that dog sniff should now be considered a ‘search’ for purposes of (the amendment) where the occupants are 21 years or older.”

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