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What happens if a police dog sniffs around your porch?

A number of drug possession arrests stem from the use of drug sniffing dogs. They are used in airports, seaports, and occasionally brought in to search vehicles. Wherever the search is conducted, police must have probable cause in order to use drug sniffing dogs.

The question of whether such cause exists (before a search is conducted) has garnered considerable debate. The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided a case (Florida v. Jardines) where a dog was used to inspect the front porch of a home. When the dog "alerted" to the scent of marijuana, police officers believed they had obtained probable cause to search the home. When they did, they found that the home housed an illegal growing facility.

The homeowner was charged with a crime, but his lawyer argued that the search was improper because it violated his Fourth Amendment right to privacy within his home. The Florida Supreme Court agreed, finding the case similar to Kyllo v. United States, where the U.S. Supreme Court found that when the police use devices not normally used by the public to learn about the interior of a home, such probing constitutes a search.

In the present case, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the use of a drug sniffing dog was a search for Fourth Amendment purposes, and was conducted without sufficient probable cause. We believe the ruling is important in setting important boundaries for police searches and distinguishing between the privacy rights expected in different venues (i.e. a car as opposed to a home).

If you have questions about the constitutionality of a search conducted by the police, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can advise you.

Source: Scotusblog.org, Opinion issued in Florida v. Jardines, March 26, 2013

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Gregory R. Gifford
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