New Jersey Appellate Division decision October 24, 2019 what are the police allowed to do with a narcotic dog and searching a vehicle?

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

This case is an Extension of the New Jersey Supreme Court decisions and Witt and Dunbar.  The court here found  the trial judge made an error of law when he opined that the hit by a narcotics dog required the police to obtain a search warrant to search the trunk of a vehicle and interior.

The New Jersey supreme court ruled that so long as there is a basis for the motor vehicle stop the police are about to call a dog if they have probable cause of criminal activity of narcotic activity a foot and there is not an unreasonable delay

In this case specifically  The court ruled  the police activity was correct based on the probable clause of the narcotic activity and the dog sniff and the trial judge made an error of law regardless of how poor the facts were; which were stipulated anyway.

It is black-letter law that the officers could lawfully deploy the canine. A sniff “does not transform an otherwise lawful seizure into a search that triggers constitutional protections.” State v. Dunbar, 229 N.J. 521, 538 (2017). “If an officer has articulable reasonable suspicion independent from the reason for the traffic stop that a suspect possesses narcotics, the officer may continue a detention to administer a canine sniff.” Id. at 540. So long as the sniff does not unduly extend the stop, it is permissible.

The officers lawfully stopped defendant because of his motor vehicle infractions, but had only an uncorroborated hunch that defendant possessed drugs. Once they stopped him, they were entitled to deploy the canine because they had a reasonable, articulable suspicion — but not probable cause — that defendant had narcotics in the trunk. It was not until the dog responded that probable cause arose.

Pursuant to Witt, officers may now conduct a warrantless search during a roadside stop “in situations where: (1) the police have probable cause to believe the vehicle contains evidence of a criminal offense; and (2) the circumstances giving rise to probable cause are unforeseeable and spontaneous.” Rodriguez, 459 N.J. Super. at 22 (citing Witt, 223 N.J. at 447-48). Applying the Witt standard, this automobile search passes constitutional muster.

The circumstances that gave rise to the sniff were “unforeseeable and spontaneous.” Had defendant not violated the motor vehicle laws, the officers could not have stopped him. Although the officers suspected defendant of involvement in narcotics trafficking with S1, on this record, they had no specific information regarding his role or the contents of the plastic bag — they only had information regarding S1 and a mere hunch about defendant.

Jeffrey S. Hark, Esq.
609-471-1959. Cell
856-354-0050 Office

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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