A Colorado appeals court ruled last week that the presence of marijuana in a car, detected by drug-sniffing police dogs, does not provide probable cause for police to search the vehicle.
In a precedent-setting case (People of the State of Colorado v. Kevin Keith McKnight), a three-judge panel ruling affirmed that law enforcement officers need more than a dog’s warning in order to search a vehicle.
Why? Because in Colorado, marijuana is legal. Judge Daniel Dailey wrote in his ruling that it could be legal marijuana in the certain vehicle:
“Because Amendment 64 legalized possession for personal use of one ounce or less of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older in Colorado, it is no longer accurate to say, at least as a matter of state law, that an alert by a dog which can detect marijuana — but not specific amounts — can reveal only the presence of ‘contraband.”
Two years ago, police officers pulled over a truck driven by McKnight for allegedly making a turn without using a signal. A drug-sniffing police dog named Kilo alerted the officers that drugs were in the truck. Despite a motion by McKnight’s attorney to suppress that search, Moffat County District Judge Michael O’Hara allowed evidence found from it. McKnight was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a controlled substance.
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But the appeals court said that since marijuana is legal, and the dog could not tell officers what he was sniffing, the officers did not have enough probable cause to conduct the search.
Dailey said the dog sniffing the vehicle could “infringe upon a legitimate expectation of privacy.