Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces will review possible illegal search of a vehicle by a police dog.

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) is going to hear argument regarding a search that occurred of a vehicle in Air Force case United States v. Harrell.  In this case, an Air Force First Lieutenant, who was pending a court-martial for wrongful use of marijuana, was stopped by a civilian police officer in a traffic stop for speeding.  The police officer gathered 1LT Harrell’s license and went back to his vehicle to run her information.  Prior to running her information, the police officer called for a canine unit because 1LT Harrell admitted to him that she was on her way to a certain campground, which the police officer knew was known for drug use.  Despite the officer telling her to remain in her vehicle, 1LT Harrell got out of her vehicle and lit a cigarette.  Then the officer got out of his vehicle prior to receiving information based on her license because he felt she was too close to passing traffic.  At that time, due to her suspicious behavior, the officer asked 1LT Harrell if she had any drugs in the car.  She did not answer him, but instead began asking him questions.  1LT Harrell did not consent to a search of her vehicle.  A minute or two later, the canine unit arrived.  When the unit arrived, the dog, “Stryker” began to sniff the outside of 1LT Harrell’s vehicle.  The dog then lunged toward the car, putting his paws on the vehicle and sticking his nose through the window.  Whether or not the dog broke the plane of the window with his paws and nose are facts in dispute.  The police officer claims that even before the dog “went high” on the car, the dog changed his breathing patterns and indicated the presence of contraband near the passenger side of the car.  Following the dog’s alert on the car, the police officers searched the car and found illegal drugs.  This possession was later added to 1LT Harrell’s already pending court-martial charges.  Appellant with her defense counsel moved to suppress the drugs found in the car during her court-martial.  1LT Harrell claimed that the police officer illegally detained her while waiting for the canine unit to arrive and that the dog performed an illegal search of her vehicle when his nose and paws broke the plane of the window.  The military judge denied the motion to suppress.  1LT Harrell then pled guilty to the charges conditionally.  Her guilty plea was conditioned on whether or not she failed in her later appeal to the appellate courts regarding the motion to suppress decision.  The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals (AFCCA) did not rule in her favor.  The AFCCA ruled that because the canine unit arrived less than six minutes after the traffic stop, 1LT Harrell was not illegally detained.  Also, the AFCCA ruled that the dog alerted prior to “going high” giving the officers probable cause to search the vehicle.  The AFCCA also ruled that the dog did not break the plane of the vehicle with his nose.  This case will now face review by the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces (CAAF).  A police officer may not search your vehicle during a routine traffic stop unless you give consent, there is probable cause to believe contraband is inside, there is contraband in plain sight, for the police officer’s own safety,  it is a search incident to your arrest or your car will be impounded.  Therefore, if you are stopped and do not want your car searched, DO NOT CONSENT TO A SEARCH.   If you or your loved one is facing criminal charges based on evidence you believe was obtained during an illegal search, call me.  I have experience with motions to suppress evidence and vast experience in court-martials and appeals.  To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.

William E. Cassara- Military Law Attorney

Click to Call 706-860-5769
Scroll to Top