Free Game for a Sniff: No Fourth Amendment Violation for K9 Sniffing Car in Public Parking Area

State v. Bryner, 2018 (Ohio Ct. App. 2018)

An officer responded to a disturbance call at a motel where he found five people standing outside a motel room, including Janice Bryner. Learning of an arrest warrant for Bryner, the officer proceeded to arrest her and place her in his patrol car. The officer saw Bryner’s car sitting in the parking lot and decided to direct his drug detector dog to sniff the exterior of Bryner’s car.

Based on the dog’s indication, the officer opened the car and found Bryner’s purse. While searching Bryner’s purse, he found pills and drug paraphernalia.

Bryner challenged the sniff and search, claiming the officer had no right to sniff the exterior of her car or to search her purse. When the court denied her challenge to the sniff and search, Bryner plead no contest to drug and paraphernalia charges, and appealed the denial of the suppression order.

The appellate court began its analysis, citing the black letter law that “a dog sniff does not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment, so it need not be supported by reasonable suspicion or probable cause.” Bryner had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the public parking lot, so there was no Fourth Amendment violation. Once the trained detector dog gave a positive final response to the odor of contraband in the car, there was probable cause to search the car.

An officer may search a vehicle without a warrant if there is probable cause to believe it contains evidence or contraband, and the officer may search anywhere the contraband could reasonably be hidden. The courts have adhered to this exception for years; when it was first allowed, the Ford Model T was still in production (Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 (1925)). Thus, the search of Bryner’s purse was within the scope of the constitutionally permissible search of the car.

Ken Wallentine

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over four decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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