People v. Kendricks, 2023 IL App (4th) 230179

Officer’s conduct justified by a good-faith belief that an exterior dog sniff in a public place is not a search or seizure; case law from foreign jurisdictions support Officer’s belief that the dog’s alert created probable cause; dog’s act of physically touching the car after initial alert is not an unreasonable search.

K-9 units are well-trained and prepared for the elements of police work. Facilitated by the Illinois Law Enforcement Standards Board, each dog is trained to detect odors of methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin. Illinois State Police (“ISP”) Trooper Andrew Scott (“Scott”) is certified in narcotics detection and works closely with his K-9 unit. In this case, the training of Scott and his K-9 unit were put to the test.

The Court’s decision is brief and to the point. Illinois case law substantially supported the ISP Trooper’s actions because a dog sniff of a publicly parked car is neither a search nor seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Additionally, the facts indicated the trained, certified drug detection dog alerted the odor within seconds, providing the ISP Officer with probable cause to search the car.

The Facts

On January 24, 2020, Trooper Scott saw a red Kia with an Alabama license plate and followed the Kia to a gas station. He entered and asked the driver, later identified as James Kendricks (“Defendant”) if he would consent to a dog sniff. While Trooper Scott knew he didn’t legally need consent, he “liked to find out if the person maybe had something to hide.” Kendricks, 2023 IL App (4th) 230179, ¶ 6. The Defendant denied consent.

Trooper Scott then went out to the car and a mere “two second after starting the sniff,” the dog “went into odor.” Id. at ¶ 7. Going “into odor” involves the physical cues alerting the officer that the dog had detected an odor. This is also known as the “final alert.” Id.

The dog then began sniffing around the car and pulled the Trooper to the driver’s door and pressed his nose to the handle, put his paws on the door, detailed the scene, and lowered into a sit. Id. This is the “passive alert” where the dog either sits or lays down the nose closest to strongest source of the odor. Id. at ¶ 5.

The officer then returned the dog to his kennel, closed the door, and walked over to the Defendant and told him he was not free to leave. The search revealed ten (10) pounds of marijuana.

The Appeal

The Defendant appealed the circuit court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence. Defendant argued that Scott, the ISP Trooper, lacked reasonable, articulable suspicion when he seized Defendant’s car; and (2) his car was unreasonably searched when a drug detection dog trespassed on the car’s exterior without probable cause, alerting the ISP Officer to Defendant’s cannabis possession.

The Analysis

The Court opted to avoid constitutional questions by applying the judicially created, nonconstitutional, good-faith exception. Kendricks, 2023 IL App (4th) 230179, at ¶ 14. This exception upholds a warrantless search if the conduct is based on objectively reasonable belief that there was binding appellate precedent to justify the actions. Id.

The Court asked if, based on appellate precedent, Trooper Scott had a good faith belief that an exterior sniff of a publicly parked bar was neither a search nor a seizure and then if, based on binding appellate precedent, that the dog’s passive alert – before physical contact with the car – created probable cause. The answer to both questions is “yes.”

Focusing first on whether the sniff is a search or a seizure, the Court cited current Illinois Appellate Court rulings that uphold a sniff in a public place is neither. See People v. Ortiz, 317 Ill.App.3d 212, 223 (2000); People v. Thomas, 2018 IL App (4th) 170440, ¶ 60. The Court found the ISP Officer had a reasonable, good-faith belief for believing the conduct was lawful. Additionally, the Court said the ISP Officer did not “detain” the Defendant, which requires a reasonable suspicion, because Defendant was inside the gas station and not physically or authoritatively detained. Kendricks, 2023 IL App (4th) 230179, at ¶ 16.

Plaintiff’s next argument that the dog’s act of putting his paws physically on the vehicle constituted a trespass and a “search.” Id. at ¶ 20. The Court assessed probable cause based on what Trooper Scott knew at the time. The ISP Officer knew that a dog certified and trained to alert heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine with 100% accuracy alerted to odor when approaching Defendant’s car. Id. at ¶ 21. Case law supports that the dog’s passive alert – which usually involves visible cues – creates probable cause. See id. at ¶ 22 (citing case law from Maryland and the Tenth Circuit supporting this principle). The Court found, while it was not the ISP Officer’s responsibility to know what other jurisdictions say on the matter, a reasonable officer in his situation could reach the same conclusion as officers in the foreign jurisdictions. Id.

Based on the above, the motion to suppress was properly denied. Trooper Scott reasonably formed a suspicion based on the canine units actions and relied on the dog’s training to trust that there was probable cause to believe there were illegal substances in the vehicle.

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