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Privacy Has A Distinct Smell To It: Canine Sniffs At Automobile Stop


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People v Devone.

15. N.Y.3d 106

Court of Appeals

Decide on June 8, 2010

See Also: Your Identity Is Not Private As A Matter Of Law

Summary: Troy Washington and Defendant were driving when they got pulled over by Police. When Police asked for identification, Washington claimed he did not have a driver’s license or registration and that the vehicle was registered to his cousin. When Police asked what was the name of his cousin and his whereabouts, Washington pointed to Defendant, and said he did not know. The Police ran the license number to the vehicle and discovered it was registered to a female. Because of the ‘suspicious inconsistencies’, Defendant and Washington were ordered to step out of the vehicle. Police retrieved a canine specially trained in detecting narcotics to sniff the exterior of the vehicle. The canine alerted Police that drugs were present. The Police opened the door and commanded the canine to search inside where the dog directed them to the console. A search of the console uncovered a quantity of crack-cocaine.

Issue: Whether a canine sniff of the exterior of a lawfully stopped car constitutes a legal search, and, what level of suspicion by Police is required to conduct that search.

Holding: The Court held that Police can conduct an exterior canine sniff of the vehicle based upon founded suspicion that criminality was afoot. Based on state jurisprudence, whether a canine sniff constitutes a search is necessarily dependent upon whether it constitutes an intrusion into place where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. The Court held that one has a greater expectation of privacy in one’s home than in an automobile. Law enforcement must meet a lesser standard of proof before conducting a search because there is a diminished expectation of privacy when traveling in an automobile. The Court of Appeals concluded that the inconsistent answers to police questioning constitutes a founded suspicion that criminality was afoot and provided sufficient grounds for the search.

Facts: Troy Washington was talking on his cellphone when he got pulled over by Police. Police asked Washington for his identification but he did not have his driver’s license or registration. He told police that the car was registered to his cousin. When Police asked what was his cousin’s name was, Washington said that he did not know and pointed to Defendant, who was seated in the passenger seat. When police ran the license number from the vehicle they discovered that it was registered to a female. Because of the “suspicious inconsistencies” in Washington’s answers, the Officers decided to conduct a canine sniff of the exterior of the vehicle. Washington and Defendant were ordered out of the vehicle, and the officer’s retrieved a dog trained in detecting narcotics. The canine ‘alerted’ the Police, indicating to the Officers that he was in the presence of drugs. As the officer opened the driver’s side door, the canine jumped inside and scratched at the console. A search of the console uncovered a quantity of crack-cocaine.

Legal Analysis: The Court held, that Police only need ‘founded suspicion’ to conduct a canine sniff of the vehicles exterior. The Court of Appeals held that the Appellate Division properly concluded that the officers ‘founded suspicion’ that criminal activity was afoot provided sufficient grounds for that search. Because of the ‘suspicious inconsistencies’ Defendant displayed while being questioned by Police on who the car was registered to, such founded suspicion that criminal activity is afoot was established on retrieving a canine sniff. The inconsistent answers gave officers the diminished proof to allow the search to be legal and conduct a canine sniff. The Court of Appeals held that one clearly has a greater expectation of privacy in one’s home than in an automobile and a canine sniff of the exterior or an automobile constitutes a legal search.


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