Travis Stacey Whitehead was in the right rear passenger seat when a narcotics detection dog alerted on the driver’s door of a car in
Suffolk in April 2006.
Police searched the car and the other four occupants of the vehicle before they searched Whitehead and found heroin residue and paraphernalia in his pocket.
Whitehead contended that the alert on the car couldn’t provide probable cause to search those in it, and especially him because he was the farthest from the alert.
The trial judge disagreed and the Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed today in Whitehead v. Commonwealth. The court relied on testimony from the dog’s handler that the dog would alert from the point that he had the best airflow from the vehicle but that the scent could have come from anywhere in it.
Moreover, the court said, the probability that Whitehead was the source of the smell became stronger when no drugs were found in the car or on the other occupants of the vehicle.
“While it may have been more a result of luck rather than a profound understanding of the Fourth Amendment, we hold that by the time the officers searched Whitehead they possessed the necessary probable cause to justify the search,” Judge William G. Petty wrote for the panel.
By Alan Cooper