By Katherine Coviello
WOODLAND, CA – Questions over the legality of a K-9 search arose in a preliminary hearing here in Yolo County Superior Court.
According to police testimony, the man was detained and arrested on a warrant in the private parking lot of the Lighthouse Bar and Grill. He was then placed in the patrol vehicle and the officer contacted his supervisor asking if he had a legal right to search the man’s car.
They decided to refrain from searching the vehicle. Upon a visual inspection, the vehicle had two bullet holes.
The arresting police officer had trouble contacting a relevant detective, but eventually found out the man was wanted for discharging a firearm in a domestic violence situation. The police officer noted that his girlfriend had seen him with a pistol before.
After inquiry, the detectives who were contacted did not want to pursue a vehicle search.
The arrested man’s mother quickly came on scene. The man requested his mother take custody of the car.
While talking to the mother with the keys in hand, the police officer asked the mother if she would agree to take the car. He then informed her if anything illegal was found in the car, she could be held responsible for it. She still wanted to take possession of it.
During this conversation, the police officer then decided to go to his supervisor and request a K9 team. The K9 was off-duty, so they had to request someone come in. The officer testified that it took approximately two hours for the K9 team to arrive on scene.
The officer testified that although he did not have experience with search warrants, after talking to his superiors, he did not feel he had the grounds for a search warrant because he did not have enough information.
Another officer took the car keys and prevented anyone from accessing the car while the suspect was being taken to the police department and subsequently jail.
The K9, a dog named Yoda who was an EOD dog who specialized in apprehension work, then alerted he found something. An unserialized modified firearm with over 30 rounds of ammunition was found in the car.
The keys were then handed to the mother. These events took place over three and a half hours.
In testimony, the K9 handler admitted that Yoda’s alert could indicate an object of a shooting.
“The question in my mind is whether the automobile exception applies in this case.” stated Judge Rosenberg.
“You don’t have to get a search warrant if it applies to an automobile and the officers have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of criminal activity or contraband. So that becomes the crucial question. In this case, absent the search warrant, is there sufficient probable cause?… To the court that appears to be the crux,” the judge said.
“Look, this is a great question for a law school exam. In the real world police have to deal with these things on the street and these are very nuanced issues,” concluded Judge Rosenberg.
Judge Rosenberg took the attorneys’ arguments under submission and will rule on the issue when the hearing reconvenes on March 15.