OGDEN – The jump of an Ogden police dog through an ajar car window while snorting drugs was part of an unconstitutional search and seizure, a convicted man argued after the incident . But his appeal was dismissed by the Utah Court of Appeals, which upheld law enforcement practices and the treatment of stubborn K-9, Odin.
Police said they were investigating a weapons disruption on April 25, 2018 and followed a car into an apartment parking lot, where Antonio Valentin Ruiz got out of the car. They asked him if he had a gun; he said he hadn’t and urged them to search him. No weapons were found.
Because Ruiz had driven evasively and a car with a description matching his was seen at the site where several men allegedly wielded guns, an officer demanded to search Ruiz’s car. Ruiz refused, saying the car belonged to his father.
Odin’s master made him sniff around the car and the dog stopped in front of the partially open driver’s window and jumped inside. According to the court’s opinion, the dog “gave a positive indication of the smell of narcotics.”
The dog jumped up and the police asked Ruiz if there was any drugs in the car and he said there weren’t any. An officer searched the car and found no drugs, but found rolling papers in the center console and a loaded handgun under the driver’s seat.
Ruiz has been charged with the second degree felony of possession of a firearm by a restricted person. He then pleaded guilty after his lawyer unsuccessfully attempted to suppress the evidence on the grounds that the search violated his Fourth Amendment right to be immune from unlawful searches and seizures. In the plea, he preserved his right to appeal the evidentiary issue.
The Utah Court of Appeals, in an opinion issued Thursday, ruled that based on expert testimony and the testimony of the K-9 officer, the dog’s jump into the car was “instinctive And was not trained behavior.
The officer said Odin was trained to “follow his nose anywhere to get his reward.” He said the dog had never been trained “to get in cars” and had “never trained him to stay outside either”.
A state official responsible for K-9 training said the dogs are trained to focus on the source of the drug smells. “And if the dog finds out that he can get into the car, then he does so on his own initiative, and we don’t encourage, coerce or coax the dog into the car. This is permitted based on our understanding of applicable laws and court rulings, ”the official said.
The officer and the manager also said that the fact that no drugs were found in the car does not mean that Odin made a mistake. He may have detected “the residual contraband odor” that humans cannot detect, the officer said.
Second District Judge Reuben Renstrom ruled the evidence admissible because the officer was surprised by the dog’s jump and did not attempt to stop the dog because he feared he might injure himself in jumping through the window opening.
“Unencumbered trained dogs that enter a vehicle spontaneously do not violate the Fourth Amendment” and that “the passivity of the police, when a trained dog spontaneously enters a vehicle, does not amount to encouraging the dog to enter the vehicle. vehicle, ”Renstrom said.
Lawyers cited a decision by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in a similar case that “entering a drug dog into a vehicle before a probable cause has been established may raise concerns. concerns about the Fourth Amendment because people have a reasonable expectation of privacy inside their automobiles. . However, the Utah Court of Appeal cited other federal rulings upholding searches in cases where ‘before the dog jumped, officers did not ask the handler to open the port of entry , such as a tailgate or window, used by the dog ”.
In such cases, the state court added, the instinctive jump of a dog without the assistance of an officer “does not constitute a search requiring a warrant or probable cause.”
Ruiz’s call argued that the officer should have restrained Odin and he claimed the dog’s training “encouraged him to enter through open windows.” By training the dogs, they will be rewarded when they find drugs, they are in fact trained to enter vehicles, according to the call.
The court ruling said Ruiz’s argument “misses the mark.”
“Odin’s natural willingness to locate the source of the drug smell emanating from an open window was instinctive even though he had learned that he would be rewarded when he identified the source,” the notice said. court. “Odin’s training ultimately wasn’t the reason he jumped out the open window during the search; instead, he instinctively entered the car when he detected an odor he had been trained to locate.
It was not known if Ruiz would appeal the decision. Efforts to reach Ruiz’s appeals lawyer, Joseph Jardine, were unsuccessful.
According to court records, Renstrom sentenced Ruiz to one to 15 years in prison and suspended him, instead ordering him to serve 60 days in the Weber County Jail. He successfully completed his parole on April 5 this year.