U.S. Supreme Court: No drug dog on private property without warrant

Law enforcement agencies often employ the use of canine drug sniffers to detect the presence of illegal narcotics. People in Detroit may see these four-legged officers in action during traffic stops and even at airports. Many dogs are taught to alert officers that there is cocaine, marijuana, heroin or other illegal drugs nearby through a passive act like sitting.

Recently, two men from Detroit pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges, according to WSAZ. The men were stopped in Ohio for speeding and their behavior raised the suspicion of officers. As a result, a drug dog was used to search their vehicle and several drugs were found. The men received sentences of 18 years in prison without parole.

Dog's sniff violation of constitutional rights

Last year the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to rule on whether a drug dog could be brought onto private property without a warrant, according to The Huffington Post. Prosecutors in Florida argued that a drug dog's detection of marijuana inside a home was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The man arrested as a result of that detection argued that it was an illegal search because the officers did not have a warrant for the dog's presence on his property.

Law enforcement suspected that the man was growing marijuana in his home. A canine drug dog confirmed their theory when he was brought to the front door of the house by his handler. The man was arrested and charged with trafficking after officers found 179 marijuana plants inside. The Supreme Court ruled that the unwarranted sniff of the dog was a violation of the man's Fourth Amendment rights for the following reasons:

  • The dog was trained to detect drugs.
  • The dog was brought to the home specifically for the purpose of detecting drugs.
  • The dog was brought onto private property without any invitation from the property owner.
  • According to Reuters, Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out that the home is under the protection of the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, the dog's sniff constituted a search and is essentially illegal without a warrant.

Probable cause required for search and seizure

Generally speaking, in order for law enforcement to get a search warrant, they must prove that there is probable cause for one. This means that officers must have evidence that would lead the average person to conclude that a crime has been committed. For example, if police conduct surveillance and observe a person associating with known drug dealers, setting up a home with industrial equipment favored by drug growers or receive a call from someone who saw drug plants in the person's home, then that could be enough evidence for them to get a search warrant, but the facts and circumstances can vary with each case.

When people are facing drug crimes, or any type of criminal charge, one of the factors that should be looked at is whether the search and seizure was legal. An experienced attorney can answer that question as well as examine all other aspects of the case.


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