On December 17, a three-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that Grand Junction, Colorado police didn’t have enough probable cause to search a vehicle, based solely upon evidence found by a drug-sniffing dog. The case was tossed out and a new trial was ordered by the panel.
The Daily Sentinel reports that the case arose out of a 2015 incident out of Moffat County. A drug-sniffing police dog named Talu found evidence of drugs in a car driven by Arlene Coglietti. Coglietti was pulled over for allegedly speeding. Since Talu is not trained to distinguish between illegal drugs and legal cannabis, the judge threw out the evidence found by the drug dog.
“Following the adoption of Amendment 64 to the Colorado Constitution in 2012, it is ‘not unlawful and shall not be an offense under Colorado law’ for a person over 21 years of age to possess one ounce or less of marijuana,” Judge Rebecca Freyre wrote in the ruling. The ruling was joined by Judges Terry Fox and Lino Lipinsky.
“And because small amounts of marijuana can no longer be considered contraband, our (Colorado) Supreme Court has concluded that a ‘drug-detection dog that alerts to even the slightest amount of marijuana can no longer be said to detect only contraband,’” Freyre added, quoting an earlier case. “‘Thus, an exploratory sniff of a car from a dog trained to alert to substance that may be lawfully possessed violates a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy in lawfully possessing that item.’”
Sgt. Justin Bynum said he observed Coglietti place a speaker box in a car outside of a home they were surveilling in a robbery case. He also claimed that he saw a handshake between her and someone from that residence.
The precedent to block evidence from drug-sniffing dogs was set back in 2017 when a separate three judge panel of the appeals court’s case was upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court, later ruling that because such police dogs can’t distinguish between cannabis and illegal drugs.
In Colorado, the usefulness of drug-sniffing dogs has fallen out of favor, following The Colorado Supreme Court decision in the People v. McKnight case, which essentially bars K-9 officers trained to detect cannabis from conducting searches. Under recent changes in several states including Colorado, some drug-sniffing dogs are out of a job.
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