Criminal Defense Clinic: Officers’ K9 Sniffing Expedition Found Unlawful Motion to Suppress Granted, Case Dismissed


Andrew Hiyama, ’24, and Denni Arnold, ’24

Andrew Hiyama and Denni Arnold represented a client, who like many in our community, struggles to meet the financial demands of living in the Bay Area. Because our client had recently bought his used car, he had not had time to address the missing front license plate or the loud noise from its exhaust pipe. Citing these reasons, a deputy from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office pulled over the car. Andrew and Denni’s client and his wife were inside.

When the deputy ran a records check on our client, it showed two things: a suspended driver’s license and prior convictions for drug possession. Based on this documented past struggle with addiction, the deputy pivoted to begin investigating our client for drugs instead of writing him a citation for driving on a suspended license. The deputy asked for our client’s consent to search the car. When our client politely refused, the deputy called a drug-sniffing German Shepard to the scene. The K-9 officer forced our client and his wife out of their car to conduct an intrusive search, subsequently finding a small amount of suspected methamphetamine and a glass pipe. The team reviewed the body-worn camera footage and the law governing traffic stops and dog sniffs. We filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the deputies violated numerous aspects of our client’s Fourth Amendment rights. We argued the deputies impermissibly detoured from their traffic mission by not writing a traffic ticket and illegally prolonged our client’s detention by profiling him based on his history of addiction. Understanding our client’s lived experience of repeated intim dation from police, we also argued that no valid consent to search could flow from the deputies’ ill gal actions. In our hearing, Andrew cross-examined the principal investigating officer. Denni cross examined the K-9 handler and presented the oral argument.

Judge Jeffrey Finigan granted our motion, agreeing that fishing for drugs based solely on a person’s prior convictions violates the Fourth Amendment. The prosecutor dismissed the case. The dismissal leaves our client free to focus on caring for his ill wife and her parents. We are working with the clinic’s integrated social work team to secure mental health treatment for our client. We are also working with him directly to update his license and registration in order to protect him from future police harassment.