Do drug dogs need search warrants?

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Recent Supreme Court rulings clarify when officers can and cannot use a drug dog to conduct a search.

Dogs have always provided a useful service to man. They have served as guides for the blind, companions to the disabled, protectors of children, and today, they are a frequent tool used in law enforcement. Orlando officers often use specially trained dogs to detect the presence of illegal drugs.

Cornell University Law School's Legal Information Institute states that residents are protected from an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. Additionally, if an unreasonable search is conducted, the items seized under that search may be found to be exempt from a criminal investigation. Since a drug dog effectively conducts a search just by sniffing, the use of a drug dog under certain conditions has received attention from the nation's highest court.

Traffic stops and drug dogs

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of a man who was charged after a drug dog indicated the presence of drugs in his vehicle. According to the court document, the man was arrested and charged with a federal crime. The man then asked a lower court to suppress the evidence seized since the search was an unreasonable one. The officer had stopped the man for a traffic violation and issued him a warning for the issue before the drugs were discovered.

The high court agreed with the man's argument, pointing out that before the search was conducted, the officer had already concluded the traffic stop matter, giving the man a written warning and returning his documents to him. Therefore, the traffic stop was officially over and there was no legal reason to detain him. At this point, the officer then asked the man for permission to circle his drug dog around the vehicle. When the man denied permission, the officer made him wait until a second officer arrived so he could conduct the search, thereby violating his Fourth Amendment rights.

Private property and drug dog sniffs

Another case recently heard by the U.S. Supreme Court concerned a case in Florida. A man in the Miami-Dade area argued that his rights were violated when a drug dog was brought to the door of his private residence. The Huffington Post reports that law enforcement agencies were acting on a tip that marijuana was being grown in the home. Officers seized 179 plants after a drug dog alerted them to the presence of the drug.

The problem was that the dog had not been invited onto the private property. The justices pointed out that the Fourth Amendment protects people within their home and while it might be natural for an officer to walk up to the home's door, there was no reason for the officer to bring the trained dog. The only purpose of the dog's presence was to conduct a search and it was the dog's sniff that was used as grounds for a search warrant. In reality, the high court stated that law enforcement agencies must obtain a search warrant before they can bring a drug dog onto private property. As a result, the court ruled in favor of the man's argument, thereby suppressing the evidence taken in the search.

When people in Orlando have been accused of committing a crime, it is important for them to understand what their rights are under the law. Therefore, it may be helpful to meet with an experienced criminal defense attorney.