Suspects, Cars & Police Dogs: A Complicated Relationship

59 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2020

See all articles by Brian Gallini

Brian Gallini

Willamette University - College of Law

Date Written: February 29, 2020


Officers are with increasing regularity searching and arresting vehicle occupants without a warrant. For justification, this Article argues, lower courts across the country unconstitutionally expand the scope of the Fourth Amendment’s automobile exception — often in the context of a positive dog alert. But Supreme Court jurisprudence specifically limits the scope of the automobile exception to warrant-less searches of cars and their containers. In other words, the probable cause underlying the automobile exception allows police to search a vehicle and its containers — nothing more.

Despite that clear guidance, this Article argues that a growing number of lower courts nationwide unconstitutionally rely on the probable cause associated with the automobile exception to warrantlessly search vehicle occupants or, alternatively, warrantlessly arrest vehicle occupants. Specifically, this Article identifies those courts that interpret the automobile exception to additionally authorize two overarching categories of warrant-less investigative activity: (1) searching vehicle occupants, and (2) arresting vehicle occupants. Each category, in the order presented by this Article, progressively unmoors the automobile exception from its constitutional foundation by broadly expanding the probable cause standard necessary to search a vehicle to permit further warrant-less investigation.

In response, this Article asserts that the probable cause associated with the automobile exception is limited to searching cars and does not justify searching people — much less seizing people. Those investigative actions, the Article concludes, each require an independent exception to the warrant requirement supported by separate probable cause.

Suggested Citation

Gallini, Brian, Suspects, Cars & Police Dogs: A Complicated Relationship (February 29, 2020). Washington Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Brian Gallini (Contact Author)

Willamette University - College of Law ( email )

245 Winter St. SE
Salem, OR 97301
United States

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