United States v. Pulido-Ayala, (8th Cir. 2018)
Police were conducting a roadblock ruse operation on an interstate highway. Javier Pulido-Ayala saw a sign announcing a fictitious drug checkpoint ahead. He drove off the next exit, changing lanes abruptly without signaling. There were no services located near the exit ramp and no apparent reason for Pulido-Ayala to take the exit, other than avoiding potential police contact at the roadblock ruse. At the top of the exit ramp, Pulido-Ayala failed to stop for the stop sign. He then turned and drove back onto the interstate, down the opposite on-ramp and drove in the opposite direction.
Two officers stopped Pulido-Ayala. One officer spoke to the passenger through an open window, while Pulido-Ayala went back to the other officer’s patrol car to discuss the violation. Within a short time, a detector dog team arrived. The passenger was given the option of remaining in the car during the dog sniff or getting out. He got out of the car, but didn’t close the door.
The handler intended to walk police service dog Jampy clockwise around the car. The handler began the exterior sniff at the rear of the car, giving the “find it” command to Jampy. The dog immediately lunged forward, pulling the handler forward, and jumped through the open passenger door. Jampy provided an immediate positive response to the odors of contraband drugs near the interior by the fender. The handler removed Jampy and began the sniff again. Once again, the dog pulled toward the fender.
The officers searched the fender area and found three kilograms of cocaine. Pulido-Ayala challenged the basis for the search under the fender. It is well established that the exterior sniff of a lawfully detained vehicle is not a search under the Fourth Amendment. In contrast, the search of the interior of a car generally requires probable cause. Pulido-Ayala claimed there was no probable cause prior to Jampy jumping inside the car.
Several courts have addressed the spontaneous springing into a car by a trained detector dog. Most of those decisions consider whether there was some police misconduct, such as the officer opening the door and intending to set up the scenario for a possible leap into the car. However, in a case that post-dates most of the spontaneous canine entry cases, the Supreme Court has ruled that the officer’s subjective intent is usually irrelevant to whether an action violates the Fourth Amendment (Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731 (2011)).
In this case, however, whether Jampy’s instinctive jump into the car was a search was irrelevant. The court held the officers had probable cause to search the car before Jampy jumped in. This wasn’t a case where a detector dog sniffed the car exterior and then entered through an open door, sniffing the interior carefully and then providing an alert response. Jampy’s strong sudden lunge forward and leap into the car, his training in detecting the odors of contraband drugs, and Pulido-Ayala’s suspicious behavior in avoiding the roadblock ruse all combined to provide probable cause to search the car before Jampy jumped in.