What Happens if a Drug Dog Catches You at Salt Lake City Airport?

When you take your bags through an airport, you’re likely to have them searched.  While scanners might have difficulty detecting drugs and TSA agents might not always use chemical tests on your bag to try to test for substances inside, you could still easily be found carrying drugs if your bag is sniffed by a drug dog.  The Salt Lake City drug crime defense attorneys at Overson Law explain what happens when a drug dog alerts on your bag at the airport.

What Happens After Drug Dogs Alert on My Bag at the Airport?

If a drug dog smells drugs, explosives, or other chemicals they are trained to find in a bag at the airport, they will “alert.”  With most sniffer dogs, this means that they are trained to sit down and stop at the bag.  This tells the dog’s police handler that there is something illegal in the bag, but it probably doesn’t communicate what exactly the dog smelled.  Because of this, police will need to investigate further before they can make any arrests or prove that you have any drugs.

Typically, a police officer will respond to the bag as a security threat.  Usually, police and TSA agents at airports are more concerned with explosives and safety risks rather than drugs.  The police might ask people to step back from the bag, and you may be kept where you are or patted down for officer safety.  Police will likely then ask you what’s in the bag, and they may ask you if they can open it.

It is vital in most cases not to admit anything to police officers, and it is important not to give up permission to search you or your bags.  The police officer might ask a more specific question, asking if you have any bombs, weapons, or explosives in your bag.  Telling the truth and saying “no” to a question like that would be helpful to defuse some of the tension and assure police that there are no safety risks in your bag.  If they ask if you have anything illegal or ask if there are drugs in the bag, you do not need to answer that question.  Similarly, you can refuse to give permission for police to search your bag.

Generally, police are going to search your bag once a drug dog alerts, whether they have the legal authority to or not.  Because safety is their primary concern, police at an airport might search your bag even if they do not have the right to do so for investigation purposes.

If the police officer does not find any contraband, they will typically let you go, and there will be no charges.  Further testing might be done to confirm that there is no contraband in the bag.  If the police do find evidence of drug possession or drug trafficking, you will likely be arrested.

In either case, you may be taken away from the bag and isolated while police perform a thorough search, and they may search or interrogate you as well.

Is it Legal for Police to Search My Bags with a Drug Dog?

Police officers commonly search bags, vehicles, and people using drug dogs.  Legally speaking, having a dog go by and sniff something is not a “search.”.  The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires police to have probable cause and a warrant before they can search something, but the use of a drug sniffer dog is not considered a search because it does not make contact with your possessions or cause any intrusion into your privacy inside the bag.

Instead, the drug dog can be used for police to get probable cause to perform a search.  Once a drug dog alerts on a bag, the police have a pretty strong suspicion that the bag contains something illegal that the dog is trained to find.  This gives them the legal groundwork they need to open the bag in most cases.  Ultimately, this means that evidence found in a full search of the bag can be used against you because police waited until they had probable cause to perform the search.

Challenging Drug Dog Searches in Utah

As mentioned, drug dogs are not used to “search” bags, in a legal sense, but merely to collect evidence to help cops get the legal foundation they need to search the bag.  However, this search can be challenged in court.

Drug dogs have been used for decades in the United States, but their training is often questionable.  Many drug dogs are trained to alert to many different substances, which means that a police officer cannot say what’s in the bag based solely on the dog alerting to the bag.  This means that they might not actually have probable cause that there are drugs in your bag because they don’t know if there are drugs, explosives, cosmetics, or other substances a dog might alert to.

Additionally, dogs are often trained using food as a reward for alerting.  This gives the drug dogs a bad incentive to alert more often since they know it means getting food.  It is often difficult to call this process scientific or trustworthy, and evidence obtained by these processes might be tainted and unusable in court.

Our attorneys work to fight this kind of evidence and shut down searches and arrests based on sniffer dog searches.  We may even be able to fight your case on appeal if you were already convicted based on drug dog evidence.

Call Our Salt Lake City Criminal Defense Lawyers for a Free Consultation

If you were arrested because of a drug dog search at Salt Lake City Airport, call a Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer today.  Our lawyers represent people charged with crimes, and we work to suppress evidence and get cases thrown out when they are based on questionable police practices or shoddy evidence.  For a free legal consultation on your case, call us today at (801) 758-2287.