In Colorado, a Dog Alert Is Not Sufficient for Traffic Search, Appellate Court Rules

DENVER, CO — An alert from a dog trained to detect the odor of marijuana is not sufficient justification for a warrantless traffic vehicle search, the Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled.

Because the adult use of marijuana is legal under state law, the three-judge panel determined:

“A dog sniff could result in an alert with respect to something for which … a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy.”

The ruling reverses a lower court decision.

A 2015 Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling similarly determined that the smell of cannabis emanating from a vehicle is insufficient to trigger a warrantless vehicle search.

By contrast, a 2016 Arizona Supreme Court ruling determined that police may search a vehicle or a home based solely on the odor of cannabis.

Full text of the decision, Colorado v. McKnight is online.

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