Court ruling sets new precedent for drug sniffing dogs in Colorado

There is a new precedent when it comes to drug cases in Colorado. The state court of appeals says the mere scent of marijuana detected by a drug dog is not enough to search a vehicle. It raised questions about whether K9's across the state may need to be

KUSA - Drug-sniffing police dogs in Colorado may need new training if they can detect marijuana.

A ruling last week by the Colorado Court of Appeals sets a new precedent for drug cases.

A three-judge panel ruled that if a drug-sniffing dog is trained to alert officers to marijuana and other drugs, cops need more cause to search a vehicle without permission.

The Grand Junction Sentinel reports that because a drug dog used in a 2015 Moffat County case could not tell officers whether he smelled pot or other drugs, the search was illegal.

Judges wrote that pot is legal and users have "a legitimate expectation of privacy."

Some have surmised the ruling will force police department to re-train their K-9 fleet so they can no longer detect pot. The Aurora Police Department says it will not, at least in their case.

“If the chief walked in to me tomorrow and said our dogs no longer look for dope it really wouldn't affect anything,” said Officer David Exstrom, who has been a K-9 officer for 11 years. “It would change maybe five or six deployments a year.”

Exstrom has worked with his dog Flash for seven years. He estimates in those years he’s had to deploy Flash a total of 50 times for drug searches and chases. The rarity is the reason things won’t change all that much.

“One (deployment) per month is our average,” Exstrom said. “There better be something there as to why you called us. It's not just on a whim you want to walk around this car- that's not going to meet our standard for a deployment.”

Exstrom says things like skittish behavior or conflicting stories are the main reasons the conduct searches, which is fine. While the new ruling says tip offs by dogs are not reason enough to warrant a search, they can still be a contributing factor to probable cause.

“Our goal is to act within good faith and to do that job for the right reasons,” he said.

Courts in other states with legal marijuana for medical or recreational purposes have said that a pot smell is insufficient grounds for a search.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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