Are the police allowed to threaten and actually bring a canine to a motor vehicle stop for a ‘sniff’ of a car?

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

Our New Jersey Supreme Court decided on July 10, 2017 that New Jersey police can bring a dog to a motor vehicle stop without reasonable suspicion so long as the dog sniff does not prolong the stop beyond the time required to complete the stop’s mission.

In the case of State v. Dunbar the police observed a vehicle parked in  a handicap parking spot located in front of a convenient store without a handicap sign in the vehicle or a designation on its license plate.  One of the officers also had recognized the defendant and his vehicle from an anonymous tip regarding narcotics distribution. The officers approached the vehicle question the driver and passenger, detain the passenger for an unrelated warrant, and told the driver they would be bringing a canine to smell the car. The trial court suppressed any evidence from the canine finding there was no reasonable and articulable suspicion warranted to bring the canine to the scene because they observed no criminal activity.  The Appellate Division affirmed and the state appealed.

The Supreme Court of New Jersey adopted the federal jurisprudence concerning canine sniff at a the location involving a motor vehicle stop.  The long-standing federal position is a canine can be brought to a scene without any reasonable suspicion of criminal activity so long as the procedure does not prolong an otherwise legitimate motor vehicle stop.

In other words the police can bring a dog to a motor vehicle stop to conduct a sniff only so long as the stop is not unreasonably extended.  The other focus is whether there is actually a “legitimate “motor vehicle stop.   This involves determining whether the police observe a motor vehicle infraction under title 39 of New Jersey motor vehicle code. As a result of the new standard the case was remanded for the trial court to make a determination as to whether the officers canine sniff was “unreasonably prolonging the motor vehicle stop” and whether there was an independent reasonable suspicion to conduct  the canine sniff thereafter.

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

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