Four-Legged Law Enforcement

Officials from the from the Dare County Sheriff’s Office are quick to defend their extensive use of drug-sniffing dogs.


There are eight police dogs in the county, which is far more than the number of animals in nearby jurisdictions. Most of the animals come from the Czech Republic; the price of $15,000 per dog is paid from seized drug funds. Captain Kevin Duprey said the office uses K-9 units “as much as possible,” and that the service they provide is “invaluable”; in January 2016 alone, the dogs assisted in two drug busts and detained a third suspect until officers arrived.


Dare County has an extensive network of rural roads and a large number of vacant vacation rental properties, which sets the stage for possible drug manufacturing and distribution activity.


Drug Sniffing Dogs and Arrests


The United States Supreme Court just ruled on this issue last year, in Rodriguez v. United States. In that case, a Nebraska Highway Patrol officer stopped a vehicle for driving on a highway shoulder, a relatively minor infraction. After issuing a citation, the officer remained suspicious, primarily due to the demeanor, and possibly the nationality, of the two passengers. The officer requested a drug-sniffing dog to perform a search, and it took about seven or eight minutes for the dog to arrive. With the help of the animal, the officers found methamphetamines.


Mr. Rodriguez filed a motion to suppress the arrest, alleging that the seven or eight minute delay infringed upon his Fourth Amendment rights. The trial judge denied the motion, reasoning that the delay was de minimis, and the appeals court upheld that decision.


Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared that any extension invalidates the arrest, unless the officer has reasonable suspicion, and there is no such thing as a “de minimis” constitutional violation, at least in this context. She added that a stop must be tailored to its purpose. In other words, a traffic stop is a traffic stop and not an excuse to search for illegal drugs.


General Fourth Amendment Issues


Mapp v. Ohio, a Supreme Court case from 1961, is still considered one of the seminal cases regarding what peace officers can and cannot do during an arrest. Officers who claimed they had a search warrant stormed Ms. Mapp’s Cleveland home, and forcibly restrained her while they seized a number of items that were not germane to their visit – they went to look for gambling paraphernalia and seized pornography.


Several important points came out of that case:


  • Search warrants must be based on affidavits that are supported by probable cause, and an informant’s tip may or may not constitute such cause.


  • The search must match the warrant; for example, if the search warrant gives the officers permission to search for guns in the living room, they cannot search for a meth lab in a backyard shed.


  • The Fourth Amendment was designed to limit police powers, and should be interpreted as such.


There are some instances when a search warrant is not required, including a consent search and a search incident to a lawful arrest.


Strong Advocates for Defendants


Police and prosecutors must adhere to strict procedural rules, and any deviation may cause the case to be thrown out. For a confidential consultation with Charlotte criminal defense attorneys who know the law, contact Remington & Dixon, PLLC. We routinely handle cases in Mecklenburg County and nearby jurisdictions.


Are consultations free?

While we offer a free consultation on traffic matters, criminal matters, and most professional license defense cases, we charge a fee for family law consultations to personalize our consultations to your specific needs. To learn about our fee structure, please get in touch.

Where can I get legal advice?

We recommend meeting with an attorney. While there is free legal help available for North Carolina residents from pro bono resources for civil matters, and public defenders for criminal cases, the best way to access tailored advice is to hire a lawyer.

Can I hire you if I’m in another state?

This is done on a case by case basis if you are involved in a family law, criminal, or professional disciplinary matter that involves another jurisdiction.



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