A police officer pulling you over can be more than an inconvenience. If an officer suspects that you have drugs in your vehicle, you could find yourself potentially facing a vehicle search and criminal charges if authorities find items that they consider contraband. Of course, an officer cannot search your vehicle on a whim, but what if he or she uses a drug dog?

Police officers often utilize drug dogs, or K-9 units, during traffic stops to determine whether someone may have hidden illegal substances inside a vehicle. If a dog alerts, or signifies, to the officer that it detects illegal substances, the officer can use that alert as probable cause to search your vehicle. Does this violate your rights?

Drug dog alerts are valid probable cause

Though the Fourth Amendment does protect you from illegal searches and seizures, it does not consider the use of drug dogs a violation of your rights. Even if officers have no reasonable suspicion to use a drug dog, they can still use the dog during a traffic stop. This means that, even if you have not given an officer any reason to suspect that you have contraband in your vehicle, that officer could still allow a K-9 unit to conduct a sweep of the outside of your vehicle.

If the dog does alert, the officer can then search your vehicle. If the officer finds illegal substances, drug paraphernalia or other illegal items inside your vehicle, you could find yourself under arrest and facing drug-related charges.

Are drug dogs reliable?

Though many police departments consider drug-detecting dogs reliable, studies have found that drug dogs often present false positives. This means that a dog may signal to an officer that it detects illegal substances, often by sitting or pawing at an area, but it does not necessarily mean that the dog was correct. Still, an officer will likely not stop to consider whether the dog falsely alerted and will instead move forward with a search.

Can you contest a search stemming from a drug dog alert?

If you do find yourself in this scenario and face drug charges or other criminal allegations after a search of your vehicle, you may wonder whether officers carried out their actions by the book. In some cases, it may be worthwhile to contest the reliability of a drug dog or the actions of a police officer if you suspect that he or she did not properly follow procedures. Discussing your concerns and the details of your arrest with an experienced North Carolina defense attorney could help you combat any charges.