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People v. Restrepo.

2021 COA 139. No. 20CA0224.  Search and Seizure—Drug Dog Sniff of Vehicle—Probable Cause.

November 18, 2021

Drug task force investigators were following a suspected “high level” drug dealer when he visited defendant’s house. After the dealer drove away, task force members stopped him and found firearms and a quarter pound of methamphetamine in his vehicle. The dealer told officers he had been at defendant’s house to sell him methamphetamine as a customer.

Meanwhile, other task force members observed defendant leave the house, and they followed him for a couple of hours. They decided to make a traffic stop after defendant rolled through a stop sign and asked a local police officer with a canine unit to stop the car. During the stop, the officer patted down defendant and found $1,200 in his pocket. He commanded his dog to perform a drug sniff of the vehicle, and the dog alerted. The officer then searched the car and found suspected methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in a backpack in the backseat.

The district court denied defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence found in his backpack, finding there was reasonable suspicion for a dog sniff and the dog’s alert had provided probable cause to search the car. The seized contraband was admitted at trial, and defendant was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia, possession with intent to manufacture or distribute methamphetamine, and possession of a controlled substance.

On appeal, defendant argued that the district court reversibly erred by admitting the evidence seized from the backpack. The Court of Appeals determined that a dog sniff from a dog trained to detect marijuana is a search under the Colorado Constitution that intrudes on a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy in lawful activity. Accordingly, there must be probable cause to believe a vehicle contains illegal narcotics under state law before deploying a drug detection dog trained to alert to marijuana. Here, probable cause was lacking, so the search results should have been suppressed and the district court erred.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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