A police dog named Titan, trained by the FBI.

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Colorado Court of Appeals Rules Police K-9 Alert Not Grounds for Search

The Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled that an alert by a police K-9 trained to smell cannabis and other drugs is not enough to trigger a vehicle search, according to a report from the Grand Junction Sentinel. The three-judge panel ruled that because cannabis is legal in the state, users have “a legitimate expectation of privacy.”

Because the dogs are trained to sense cannabis along with other drugs, they could simply be alerting officers to the presence of a legal substance.

“Because Amendment 64 legalized possession for personal use of one ounce or less of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older in Colorado, it is no longer accurate to say, at least as a matter of state law, that an alert by a dog which can detect marijuana — but not specific amounts — can reveal only the presence of ‘contraband,’” Judge Daniel Dailey wrote in the unanimous ruling.

The decision stems from a February 2015 case in which a Craig Police officer pulled over a driver, Kevin McKnight, for allegedly making a turn without using his turn signal. McKnight had been leaving a home that had been searched for drugs two months prior. The officer called in a Moffat Country Sheriff officer and his drug-sniffing dog, Kilo, who is trained to detect cannabis, methamphetamine, heroin, ecstasy, and cocaine.

Kilo alerted the officers to the presence of drugs, and officers found a glass pipe commonly used to smoke meth, according to the report. McKnight’s attorney attempted to suppress that search, but it was ultimately allowed by the court and McKnight was convicted of possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia.

The appeals court, however, said that the evidence should not have been permitted because the dog could not tell the officers what substance it had detected. The ruling could force law enforcement throughout the state to stop training K-9’s to detect cannabis.

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