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News / Northwest

Idaho Court rules drug-sniffing K-9 trespassed after pawing car

Judges say search prompted by dog was not legal

By Nicole Blanchard, The Idaho Statesman
Published: March 22, 2023, 7:33pm

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Supreme Court has vacated a Mountain Home man’s conviction for felony drug possession and delivery after it ruled that a police drug-sniffing dog trespassed and conducted an illegal search by putting its paws on his vehicle, prompting the search that led to his arrest.

The court issued its decision Monday, with three of the five justices in agreement and two dissenting.

The case centered on the 2019 arrest of Kirby Dorff. According to court documents, the officer said Dorff was stopped by a patrol officer in Mountain Home after Dorff drove across lanes of traffic without using a signal. A second officer arrived with a police K-9 named Nero who was trained to detect illegal drugs.

While Dorff explained to the first officer that he didn’t have a valid driver’s license or proof of insurance in the vehicle, Nero began sniffing around the car. Police body camera footage showed the dog jumped up against the car multiple times, including once when his paws rested on the driver’s side door and window as he sniffed the “upper seams” of the car, officials said.

Police searched Dorff’s vehicle based on the dog “alerting” them to the presence of drugs, its handler said. The officers found a pill bottle, folded papers and a baggie that had a white substance that testing later confirmed was meth. According to the court documents, the vehicle’s passenger told police Dorff had shown him a baggie of meth at the motel room they were sharing. Court filings said that when police searched the room, they found 19 grams of meth and additional drug paraphernalia.

Dorff was charged with felony delivery and possession of a controlled substance and misdemeanor drug paraphernalia possession — charges he argued stemmed from Nero trespassing on his vehicle. Dorff’s attorney submitted a motion to suppress, or exclude, the evidence from the case, which an Ada County District Court judge rejected.

Dorff pleaded guilty on the condition that he could appeal the denial of his motion to suppress evidence. In June 2020, he appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court.

Justice Robyn Brody in the majority opinion wrote that justices weighed whether the dog’s intrusion on the exterior of Dorff’s vehicle constituted trespassing as it would have if the dog had entered the interior of the vehicle.

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