Formal answer to the “dog sniff” question

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

Until recently, if an officer possessed an articulable reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, an extended  traffic stop in order to conduct a canine search was permissible. State v. Elders, 192 N.J. 224, 234-35 (2007) (where officers threatened the use of a canine in order to gain “consent” to search). The use of a dog only requires reasonable suspicion, and the calm threat to use a dog is not viewed as coercive by the courts during a Terry stop. State v. Baum, 199 N.J. 407, 426 (2009). However, the U.S. Supreme Court recently restricted the use of dogs to the temporal limits of the Terry stop itself, absent individualized suspicion. Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609, 1616, 191 L. Ed. 2d 492 (2015). An officer may conduct a canine search of the outside of a vehicle during a Terry stop so long as it is completed within the time-frame required to complete the tasks associated with the stop, such as checking license and registration. Id.

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