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Update on “Dog Sniff” Case – Seizure Of Drugs Legitimate?

Both sides await the decision of Chief Judge Rosanna M. Peterson in the Eastern District of Washington in a “dog sniff” of a car where methamphetamine and cash were seized as a result of the supposed “alert” of a K-9 used to search the car. The case originated when a Washington State Patrol trooper had stopped Mr. Rangel-Ceja who was allegedly travelling at 92 M.P.H. on I-90 just past Ellensburg as he headed toward Spokane. The trooper testified that Mr. Rangel-Ceja had gang tatoos around his neck, had a single key in the ignition of a car owned by another person (supposedly signs of narco trafficking) and otherwise looked suspicious. The trooper called for a sheriff’s K-9 which arrived on the scene about 15-minutes later. The K-9 supposedly “alerted” by cocking its head as it passed by the trunk of the car (meth and cash were later found after a search warrant was authorized following the dog’s “alert”).

Seattle attorney John R. Crowley hired K-9 consultant Steven Nicely of Buda, Texas to review the training records of the dog and his handler. Mr. Nicely noted that over a 10-year training and application period, the subject dog had only been trained to “sit and stare” if it had actually “smelled” drugs. Mr. Nicely testified that because the dog had never been trained to “cock” its head as an “alert” and neither the dog or handler had ever been tested using this technique, the dog was not a qualified search and sniff dog and the evidence should therefore be excluded. (You may review Mr. Nicely’s web site at

It should be pointed out that this case is NOT similar to the “dog sniff” case of Florida v. Jardines, recently accepted for review by the United States Supreme Court. Jardines questions whether police must first have probable cause before applying a K-9 dog in any “sniff search”. However, the current Supreme Court has recently taken a great interest in what had been previously considered acceptable and routine warrantless searches by police.  Many search and seizure cases are currently in the appellate “pipeline” awaiting the decisions of higher courts.