Changes to California’s drug crime laws

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) recently issued a holding on a case involving the use of a drug-sniffing dog during a traffic stop. During a routine traffic stop, the officer noticed an open beverage in the vehicle. The officer requested a search of the vehicle and the driver declined. In response, the officer brought his narcotics trained dog around the vehicle to conduct a "free-air sniff search."

During the sniff search the dog alerted to the presence of illegal substances. Based on the dog's alert, the officer argued he had probable cause to conduct a full search of the vehicle. The search led to the finding of various substances used in the production of methamphetamine, resulting in drug crime charges against the driver of the vehicle.

The law protects against unreasonable searches

The issue in this case was whether the use of a narcotics trained dog to sniff around the car was a violation of the driver's Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Amendment offers basic protections against unreasonable searches. An officer cannot simply pull someone over at random and demand a full search of his or her vehicle. Probable cause for violation of the law must exist before such a search can be conducted.

In this instance, the narcotic dog used to conduct the sniff search had a history of false positive alerts. The driver argued the dog was unreliable due to these false positive alerts. If the dog was unreliable, the search that followed the alert would be illegal. If the search was illegal, any evidence would not be allowed in court and removal of evidence could lead to a dismissal of charges.

Ultimately, the Court held that drug-sniffing dogs need to complete training in order to be considered reliable. Once training and certification is completed, a dog's alert is enough to support a more thorough search.

Keeping up on changing drug crime laws in California

Based on this holding, a narcotic dog's alert may be unreliable if proper training is not completed. As a result, those who find themselves facing drug charges based on a drug-sniffing dog's alert should review the dog's training to ensure his or her right against an unreasonable search was not violated.

In addition to carefully reviewing drug charges connected to the use of a narcotics dog, it is also important to be aware of potential changes to drug laws in California. Senator Mark Leno from the San Francisco area is pushing the state to adjust its drug laws, allowing those accused of drug possession crimes to be charged as misdemeanors instead of felonies. He argues the change would reduce overpopulation in the state's jails and ease the pressures placed on the state court system. Overall, he contends this could save the state of California millions.

How SCOTUS holdings and potential changes in law impact you

The proposed change by Senator Leno and the holding issued by SCOTUS highlight two ways drug laws are influenced in California. Because of the state's evolving drug laws, those charged with a drug crime should contact an experienced California drug crime lawyer to better ensure their legal rights are protected.