What began as a traffic stop for an alleged driving under the influence offense led to felony drug charges Saturday for a San Jose man in Novato, California. Media reports do not indicate what led a Novato police officer to suspect the driver of being under the influence before conducting the traffic stop. However, authorities say that the officer claims to have smelled pot emanating from inside the car.

The officer claims that two large packages wrapped as Christmas gifts were inside the car. Police brought in a canine unit to sniff the packages and claim that the dog alerted during the dog sniff. Novato Police say that the department has three police dogs used to sniff for evidence of drugs.

The officer reportedly ripped open the Christmas gifts and claims that the boxes contained three pounds of processed marijuana. The driver was arrested on suspicion of possession and transportation of marijuana with intent to sell.

Dog-sniff searches have been reviewed in the courts on many occasions as criminal defense lawyers have argued that a warrantless dog-sniff violates a person's Fourth Amendment rights. The U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing two dog-sniff cases this term. The most recent U.S. Supreme Court dog sniff decision was handed down in 2005. That case involved a dog sniff of a car's closed trunk. Generally, courts have held that a sniff outside a vehicle is essentially not a search for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment.

However, the nation's highest court heard argument in two dog-sniff cases earlier this year. One involves a sniff outside a residence, a story discussed on this blog in January. Generally, courts have held that a person has a greater expectation of privacy at home under the Fourth Amendment than a person in a car.

The second sniff case involved an open-air sniff outside a pickup truck during a traffic stop. That case questions the evidence necessary for prosecutors to show the reliability of the dog. The court could hand down its ruling any time before the end of the term in June.

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