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Canine Sniff of Parked Vehicle Upheld

Jack Ryan

Parking Lot Search Valid Under 4th Amendment

On April 20th 2004, the Court of Appeals, 1st District of Indiana upheld the use of canines to conduct general exterior inspections of vehicles parked in a high school parking lot. Myers v. State of Indiana, 806 N.E.2d 350 (IN. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 2004).

After the Scott County School Board authorized the use of police canines for general sweeps of school lockers and parking lots, the police notified officials at Austin High School of their intention to conduct these sweeps.

On December 12, 2002, the police conducted the sweeps. As a matter of procedure, when a dog alerted, a second dog was brought in for a sniff. If a second canine alerted, a school official was notified to conduct the search of the locker or vehicle alerted upon.

On the day officers conducted the canine sweeps, two canines alerted upon Myers’ Jeep Cherokee. Myers was called to the parking lot and told to open his vehicle. The assistant principal searched the vehicle and seized a loaded handgun under the front seat.

Myers sought to have the handgun suppressed arguing that canine sniffs are not reasonable unless supported by reasonable suspicion. In addition he argued that since the vehicle was not moving at the time, authorities should have obtained a warrant before searching the vehicle.

In its analysis the court recognized the long-standing precedent of the United States Supreme Court that a canine’s sniff of the exterior of a vehicle in a public place is not a search for Fourth Amendment purposes.

The court then applied the motor vehicle exception to the search here. Specifically, once the canines alerted on the vehicle the police and the school officials had the requisite probable cause to believe the car contained contraband, thus justifying a search under the motor vehicle exception.

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