Police dogs, probable cause, and the decriminalizing of marijuana.

Posted by Michael Zarrella | Oct 24, 2014 | 0 Comments

Police dogs have been helping the police and other law enforcement agencies for decades in the government's criminal prosecution of the war on drugs.  Police dogs are trained to use their sense of smell to detect many different types of drugs including but not limited to marijuana, cocaine, and heroin.  A hit by these dogs often leads to the probable cause needed to conduct a search in a criminal matter.   A dog can smell the smallest trace of a drug. Once the dog has made a hit, the police will often have the right to search a person's car, house, bags or whatever the dog hit on.  The government has used these trained dogs in the investigation of numerous criminal cases which has lead to thousands and thousands of searches.

On April 1, 2013,  legislation in Rhode Island took effect that decriminalizes minor marijuana possession offenses to a non-criminal offense.  This new law will have great implications not only in marijuana cases, but in many other criminal cases where a police dog was used to gain probable cause leading to a search.  The police dogs are trained to hit for many different drugs, including marijuana. Now that minor marijuana possession is no longer a criminal offense in Rhode Island, the probable cause gained by police dogs becomes very questionable.  Without probable cause, the police cannot legally search your car, your house or your person.  These police dogs lead to the probable cause in many cases but now their use might be troublesome for the police.  The dilemma for the government is that many of their police dogs are trained to find marijuana.  The police dogs do not have the ability to communicate to the dog handler what specific drugs it has scented.   Without the ability to determine what drug the dog scented, the probable cause no longer exists. For instance, a police officer stops a car driving on a highway and the dog scent leads to the indication that drugs are in the car.  Normally, this would lead to probable cause that there was a crime taking place. Now that is just not true.  The owner of the car may have a small amount of marijuana and now that marijuana has been decriminalized and there is no longer probable cause. Therefore, the police dog hit for drugs is no longer reliable.

Often a drug dog's reliability record must  be considered to determine probable cause but it can no longer be deemed reliable if the dog has not been retrained to not hit for marijuana. Consequently, a person who has been charged with any drug charge and who's proable cause was based on a police drug sniffing dog, may be in a positition to have the criminal charge dismissed.  The courts will be under great pressure to suppress evidence based on a lack of proable cause.

A lawyer that practices criminal defense should be ready to argue this in all cases where the probable cause was based on a police drug detecting dog,   A good criminal defense lawyer can make a huge impact on what happens to your criminal case.  Do not take chances on you future!  Hire a criminal defense lawyer with a great amount of criminal defense experience and a proven track record of success.

If you have been arrested for a crime in Rhode Island please call me at 401-523-5271 or visit my websites at or

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