Drug-sniffing dog cases heard by US Supreme Court
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases involving drug-sniffing dogs. The decisions made by the justices will affect the interpretation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures” when it comes to searches outside of vehicles and homes.
Florida v. Jardines and Florida v. Harris: The facts
The first case the justices heard, Florida v. Jardines, deals with allowing dogs trained to detect certain drugs to sniff outside of a person’s home. In this case, police officers received a tip that marijuana was being grown in a particular home. The police went to the home with a dog trained to detect the smell of drugs. While standing on the front porch, the dog alerted the officers that he smelled the substances he had been trained to identify.
Based on that information, the law enforcement officials obtained a search warrant and entered the house. They discovered marijuana being grown inside the home. Jardines was charged with a first-degree felony, for trafficking over 25 pounds of marijuana.
After being heard in the lower courts, the Florida Supreme Court found that the act of the dog sniffing outside the house on the front porch amounted to a search protected by the Fourth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court will review that decision.
The second case, Florida v. Harris, involves an individual who was stopped by a police officer for driving with an expired tag. The officer believed Harris was exhibiting signs of being under the influence of drugs and brought a dog trained to identify narcotics to the driver’s side of the vehicle. The dog alerted to drugs by the driver’s side door.
On the basis that the dog’s alert gave him probable cause, the police officer then searched the vehicle. He found products and materials used to make methamphetamine. Harris was charged with possession of pseudo/ephedrine with the intent to manufacture meth.
A few weeks later, the same vehicle was stopped and the same dog alerted to drugs in the vehicle. In this instance, no drugs were found.
After being heard in the lower courts, the Florida Supreme Court found that there was not enough evidence that the drug-sniffing dog was reliable enough to establish probable cause.
Oral arguments before the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court justices first heard oral arguments for Florida v. Jardines. During the arguments, five of the justices appeared uncomfortable with allowing dogs to perform the sniff test near people’s private residences. The justices raised points regarding whether officers would be allowed to go door-to-door with drug-sniffing dogs if the sniff test was not considered a search. The argument was also raised that a dog sniffing for contraband on the front porch of a house constitutes a trespass on private property.
During the oral arguments for the second case, the reliability of the particular dog involved in the case was questioned – especially due to his inaccurate alert during the second traffic stop.
This will be the first decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the use of the dog sniff test at private residences. The high court has previously found that dog sniffs do not constitute a search when used outside vehicles stopped because of other reasons.
The justices’ decisions could affect the rights of those charged with crimes when drugs are discovered due to a drug-sniffing dog. If you have been charged with such a crime, consulting with a knowledgeable Worcester criminal defense attorney will ensure a strong defense is established on your behalf.