Can sniffer dogs smell LSD? Your Victorian drug detection dog questions, answered

Written by Jack Parsons, Lawyer, Doogue + George Defence Lawyers

It is increasingly common to see drug detection dogs (also known as ‘sniffer dogs’ or ‘passive alert detection dogs’) operating across Victoria, especially at music festivals.

If you plan to attend a music festival or other venue where drug detection dogs are operating, it’s crucial that you understand your rights.

Here are your Victorian drug detection dog questions, answered.

Where Can Drug Dogs Be Used?

In Victoria, police can only use drug detection dogs with a warrant or with explicit legislative approval.

Generally, drug detection dog operations are approved for music festivals, events and targeted operations in nightlife areas.

What Can they Detect?

Drug detection dogs are trained to respond to the scent of particular illicit drugs.

Most dogs are trained only to detect cannabis, ecstasy (MDMA), methamphetamine (and other amphetamines) and heroin.

It doesn’t appear that drug detection dogs currently in operation in Victoria are trained to detect GHB, Ketamine, LSD or other psychedelics.

However, there is nothing stopping dogs from being trained to do so in the future.

How Are Dogs Used?

Drug detection dogs are used to screen patrons, cars or bags which are suspected of carrying illicit drugs.

Dogs will give a ‘positive response’ by sitting if they pick up the scent of illicit drugs.

Drug detection dogs have a very high ‘false positive’ rate, with figures from NSW indicating that 63 percent of searches following a positive response failed to turn up illicit drugs.

Can They Detect Small Amounts of Drugs?

Drug-detection dogs can detect small quantities of drugs, even if they are placed in sealed containers or covered with stronger scents.

How do I Respond?

If a sniffer dog has a positive response either to you or your vehicle, it’s important that you are careful about what you say.

You are not obligated to provide any information to police other than your name and address if they suspect you of committing a crime.

Generally, a search cannot be undertaken without a warrant, however there are a number of exceptions.

The police may use the positive response of a drug detection dog as sufficient ‘reasonable suspicion’ to search your vehicle, bags or person.

Moreover, certain ‘designated areas’ can allow for searches even if a warrant has not been issued or there are no reasonable grounds.

You should not consent to any search undertaken. Often it is best to verbally state that you do not consent to the search.

It is in your best interest not to resist a search, even if you do not consent, as it could land you in more serious legal trouble.

What personal searches are allowed?

There are three main types of personal searches:

  • A pat-down search: when the police officer uses their hands to feel over the outside of your clothes.
  • A strip search: when the police officer removes and searches all of your clothing.
  • An internal body search: when a doctor looks inside your body to assist police.

Pat-down search

A pat-down search must be conducted by an officer of the same-sex, unless not reasonably possible.

An officer can ask you to empty your pockets or remove your outermost clothing (such as a jacket or jumper) whilst conducting a pat-down search.

A written record of the search must be taken by the officer and a receipt provided to you following the search.

Strip search

If police cannot find illicit drugs via a pat-down search, they may wish to proceed to a strip search.

A strip search must be undertaken in a private place, by an officer of the same sex with a record of the search taken and provided.

If you are under the age of 18, a parent or guardian must be with you during the search. If you have a cognitive disability or a mental illness, an independent third person must be with you.

Recently, we have seen officers avoid the above protocols on the basis that ‘urgent or serious circumstances’ apply or ‘it is not practicable’ to contact a guardian.

However, there should at least be one other independent person other than yourself and the officer in the area during a strip search.

Internal body search

You do not have to agree to an internal body search. This form of search is a ‘forensic procedure’ and must be conducted by a doctor of the same sex as you.

Police must get a court order before they can conduct an internal body search.

What If Police Acted Illegally or Inappropriately?

There are a number of options available if you think the police have acted illegal or inappropriately.

Contact our office for advice.

I’ve Been Charged with a Drug Offence, What Do I Do?

If you are arrested for a drug offence you should:

  • Ask why you are being arrested.
  • Give your name and address.
  • Ask for a telephone so you can contact us.
  • Ask for bail.

You should not:

  • Answer any questions except your name and address.
  • Make any statements or sign anything.
  • Plead guilty without speaking to a lawyer first.
  • Resist arrest.
  • Act abusive or impolite.

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