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Name: People v. Stillwell
Case #: C065324
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 07/25/2011

The use of a trained drug detection dog to sniff the exterior of a vehicle is not a “search” under the Fourth Amendment and may provide probable cause for a search of containers in the bed of a pick-up truck. Following a vehicle stop for an obscured license plate and inoperative license plate lamp, the officer formed an opinion that the driver was under the influence of a controlled substance. After the driver refused the officer’s request to look inside the truck, the officer summoned assistance and officer #2, with Tommy, the dog, arrived. Tommy was trained to detect the odor of various controlled substances and was Peace Officer certified. Tommy alerted on a backpack in the bed of the truck that was found to contain items indicative of methamphetamine manufacturing. On the basis of the contents of the backpack, a search warrant was obtained for the defendant’s residence and more evidence of methamphetamine manufacturing, as well as other contraband, were located. The trial court denied appellants’ motion to suppress evidence, finding that probable cause existed for the search of the backpack. On appeal, the court found that: (1) because defendants have no reasonable expectation of privacy in odors emanating from concealed contraband, a well-trained detection dog’s sniff of the exterior of a pick-up truck does not amount to a search under the Fourth Amendment; (2) substantial evidence was adduced at the hearing that Tommy was well-trained and, therefore, reliable, despite the fact that there was no evidence that the backpack contained drugs Tommy had been trained to detect; (3) a dog alert can provide probable cause needed for a search warrant and Tommy’s alerting. Tommy alerted to a backpack in a vehicle which, under the automobile exception, could then be constitutionally searched; (4) Tommy’s standing on his hind legs and putting his paws on the side of the truck is an instinctive animal action that does not violate the Fourth Amendment.