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Does law enforcement need search warrants to use drug dogs?

Law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania, and throughout the U.S., often use drug-sniffing dogs when investigating drug-related offenses. Like many who are the subjects of such investigations, you may question whether the use of these dogs on your private property was legal. In order to help ensure your rights are not violated, it may benefit you to understand what is required for authorities to use drug dogs.

You are likely aware that the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides protection from unreasonable searches and seizures by government agents. As such, law enforcement officers cannot search your private property unless you have consented, there are illegal items in plain view, the search is related to a lawful arrest or there are other exigent circumstances.

Based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, law enforcement generally needs a search warrant in order to bring drug-sniffing dogs onto your private property. Depending on the circumstances, failing to do so could constitute a violation of your constitutional rights. The ruling arose out of a case that involved the search of a suspect’s home in Florida. A law enforcement officer took a drug dog to the man’s property. Through a closed front door, the dog detected drugs, specifically marijuana, in the home. Authorities then used that alert as evidence for a search warrant, which turned up a significant number of marijuana plants inside the home. The home’s occupant was arrested and charged with drug trafficking. However, the evidence obtained through the search was ultimately thrown out following the Supreme Court’s ruling.

This post provides an overview of search warrants and the use of drug sniffing dogs. However, you should keep in mind that the circumstances of each case may be unique. Therefore, you should take this post only as general information, and not as legal advice.   

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Gregory R. Gifford
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