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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > September 2012 > United States v. Sharp — Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, Kentucky)

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United States v. Sharp — Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, Kentucky)


Question: If a narcotics detection dog jumps through an open window and sniffs the inside of a car, does that amount to a search that would violate the Fourth Amendment?

Quick Answer: No, if a trained canine instinctively jumps into a car without officers’ encouragement or facilitation and sniffs the inside of the car, there is no Fourth Amendment violation.

Facts: David Sharp’s car was stopped, and he was arrested on an unrelated warrant. When the K9 unit arrived at the scene, the driver’s car window was down. The handler gave the dog the command to search for drugs, and the dog sniffed the exterior of the vehicle, starting at the front passenger’s side. The dog passed the driver’s door, went halfway down the rear driver’s side door, stopped, turned his head back toward the driver’s door, and walked to it. Then, without formally alerting to the presence of narcotics, the dog bounced once and jumped through the open driver’s window into the car. After jumping through the window, the dog looked up or alerted to the front passenger seat. The handler asked the dog to “show me,” and with his nose, the dog poked a shaving kit on the front passenger seat that contained drugs.

Why this case is important: The court found that as long as there has been no officer misconduct, the instinctive acts of trained dogs do not violate the Fourth Amendment. If the dog enters the vehicle on its own initiative and is not encouraged or placed into the vehicle by law enforcement, there is no violation. The court also found that since the car window was already open and law enforcement had not asked the driver to open the window, the instinctive jump was not a violation. If the officer asked the driver to open a window, door, or hatchback and the dog jumped inside, it would have been an illegal search.

Keep in mind: Peace officers cannot encourage canines to jump into vehicles or facilitate their entry by cuing them, placing them inside, or ordering them.

Visit the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit website to read the entire opinion.