Q: Questioning the legality of a search of a passengers purse
A friend of mine and his wife were stopped by a K9 unit officer for a decorative hitch cover. The officer said it obstructed the view of his license plate. The officer asked for permission to search the vehicle. My friend told him "no" so the officer asked him and his wife to step out because he was going to "run his dog" around the outside of the vehicle. The officer gave the dog no "direction" on the first go round and no alert was given by the dog however on the second run around the vehicle the officer ran his fingers over the outside of the truck between the front and back doors and the dog "alerted" by immediately sitting. The officer said that was PC to search. My friend's wife left her purse on the floorboard by her seat and it was searched revealing a small amount of drugs. Is her purse not considered to be outside the scope of the search? Or can the way the officer seemed to have cued his dog to "alert" on the second pass be challenged?
A: Based on what you have stated, there appears to be probable cause to search. While open air K-9 sniffs and alerts can be attacked on many levels such as K-9 training records, past false alerts and improper signaling; the fact that drugs were found inside the vehicle drastically diminishes that argument. As for the search of the purse, during a probable cause search of a vehicle for drugs, officers are permitted to search anywhere in the passenger compartment, including bags, boxes, etc., as long as it is reasonable to believe drugs can be found there. This does not mean that you have no defenses. You need to hire an attorney that can analyze the initial probable cause for the stop, the length of time it took to get the K-9 among other defenses.
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