Car smell like weed? Drug dog flipping out not even 10 feet from your ride? Relax, a Colorado Court of Appeals is on your side. Now (at least in Colorado), police need much more than any of that to search your car. The whole: "We have probable cause" thing is, for the most part, worthless.
The revelation stems from a 2015 traffic incident where a police dog named Kilo alerted officers of something being in a defendant's car. And they found the something (a meth pipe), which led to him being charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and a controlled substance.
The thing is, he never gave police permission to search his vehicle. And since dogs can't give the heads up of what specific materials they're sniffing out, they're now seen unreliable as proof of probable cause in states that allow possession of weed. The search was thrown out, and the charges were reversed.
"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,’” Judge Daniel Dailey wrote in the court’s ruling.
Overall, the law allows a a certain breadth of privacy depending on the circumstances, this being one of them.
“A dog sniff could result in an alert with respect to something for which, under Colorado law, a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy,” the ruling continues. “Because a dog sniff of a vehicle could infringe upon a legitimate expectation of privacy solely under state law, that dog sniff should now be considered a ‘search’ for purposes of (the amendment) where the occupants are 21 years or older.”
Keep in mind, however, this only accounts for when dogs are sniffing around, not actual humans. If an officer pulls you over, smells weed, and has a suspicion of driving while high — you will find yourself in a world of pain (and maybe dead?).
However, the long begotten habit of authorities using such an excuse to rummage through your things is increasingly becoming less of an issue in weed states.
"According to a study by researchers at Stanford University’s Open Policing Project, who poured over the data from over 60 million highway stops in 31 states between 2011 and 2015, vehicle stop and searches have resulted in 40 percent fewer drivers arrested for contraband in Colorado and Washington," cites Merry Jane.
Regardless of what's going on with the enforcement of laws, however, it's far smarter to just not drive high … and probably don't do meth, either. But it's always good to know your rights in situations like these if they ever arise.
Read the court's full judgment below: