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Drug-Sniffing Dogs at Your Front Door? Florida SC says it IS a Search.

Drug-Sniffing Dogs at Your Front Door? Florida SC says it IS a Search.

Picture of Drug Police DogThe Florida State Attorney General asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a Florida Supreme Court case holding that police officers are required to have probable cause to use a drug dog to sniff outside your door. This case arose out of an investigation of a Miami house, where police were tipped off that the owner was growing marijuana. Surveillance and traditional investigation did not reveal anything, however the police then used drug sniffing dogs on the front porch which alerted them to the presence of marijuana emanating from the inside of the home. The Attorney General is arguing that the Florida decision is inconsistent with the Court’s jurisprudence in Illinois v. Caballes, holding that a dog sniff of a persons’ car was not a search within the 4th Amendment.

What does this all mean for you?

Well, as of right now, if police officers want to use a drug dog in their investigation of you, they don’t have to have probable cause that you have committed a crime. However, if the Supreme Court grants certiorari, here are the options (in an overly simplified form):

  1. Worst Case Scenario: The Supreme Court could reverse the Florida Supreme Court, and affirm Illinois v. Caballes, and state that police officer’s don’t need probable cause to use a drug sniffing dog on your front door, because you don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and therefore there is not a search.
  2. Best Case Scenario: The Supreme Court could affirm the Florida Supreme Court, and could reverse their own decision in Illinois v. Caballes, and hold that drug sniffs by dogs do implicate the 4th Amendment, and require probable cause.
  3. Acceptable Scenario: Supreme Court could affirm Florida Supreme Court, and limit their holding to drug sniffs of the home require probable cause, or alternatively, refuse to hear the case at all.

Obviously, drug sniffing dogs have better senses of smell than humans; thus, they are a very powerful tool in police investigations. They can be used to alert the police to the presence of drugs in places that the police would not be able to enter without getting a search warrant. The drug dogs alert to their handler of the presence of drugs can also serve as a basis for these search warrants. It seems preposterous and counter-intuitive that police dogs are constitutionally allowed to be able to search somewhere or something that police officers cannot without a warrant. Hopefully someday soon, the Supreme Court will recognize that these dogs are a “search” within meaning of the 4th Amendment no matter where and when they are used.

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