Using Dogs To Search for Teens’ Drugs Could Backfire

Posted December 14, 2012 in Criminal Law Marijuana by

German Shepherd dog closeup


When little Johnny takes a sudden and unexplained interest in incense, tie-dye and the Grateful Dead, his parents might feel justified in wondering if their son has started experimenting with illegal drugs. But if they don’t catch him in the act or find any sticks, stems or seeds lying around, how can they know for sure?

Some parents think they’ve found the answer: Bring a drug-sniffing dog into the house to detect any pot or other drugs that might be stashed around the premises.

Private handlers are offering searches for $200 to $500 to bust young Bob Marleys-in-training and uncover their stash. However, parents might want to think twice about bringing a dog into their house, before they unwittingly expose their kids, or even themselves, to some unintended legal consequences.

Recent legislative advances in Colorado and Washington notwithstanding, recreational marijuana possession is still illegal in 48 states, and even in the two states that did legalize it this year it’s only for adults age 21 and older. Cocaine and other drugs are, of course, illegal across the board. If a dog does sniff out some drugs, there could be situations where the police have to be notified whether the parents want them to be or not.

“Parents should be cautious on having drug searches done at their home, making sure that they have a commitment from the drug search company in advance that any illegal drug found will not cause a report to law enforcement,” says Marsh J. Halberg, an attorney at Halberg Criminal Defense in Minnesota. “For example, if an off-duty police officer was moonlighting with a second job, they would likely be compelled to report the results of their search to law enforcement.”


Unintended Consequences

Marsh J. Halberg

Next thing you know, a child whom parents intended to ground or confiscate the allowance of could end up in court facing charges. “That information could be the basis for the state to obtain a search warrant or otherwise lawfully obtain evidence for a criminal prosecution,” Halberg says. And that’s not all — “As unlikely as it may be,” he continues, “a child who is accused of storing illegal drugs in a family’s home might point the finger at another family member claiming the drugs belong to that person instead.”

In some scenarios, police could end up searching the house and questioning siblings, parents and blowing what had been a disciplinary issue into a full-blown legal quagmire.

Parents have other options to discover substance abuse in lieu of a dog sniff, the attorney points out, such as periodic drug testing, or home breathlyzer tests for alcohol use. What’s more, punitive actions based on a total breakdown of trust between parent and child may not be the most effective way to remedy the issue and promote effective help and healing. “At some point parents have to decide if a better approach to handling drug problems with their children is to work through treatment, counseling and trust to provide a supportive recovery environment,” Halberg says.

It’s up to parents to decide how to deal with a rebellious teenager, and some parents choose to bring the police into the picture on their own volition– just be aware that inviting a drug dog into the house could potentially get the law involved whether you want to or not.

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