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Supreme Court Rules On Use of Drug-Detecting Dogs Around the Home

If you are in your residence and, for whatever reason, are suspected of a drug crime, is it necessary for law enforcement to get a warrant before bringing a drug-detecting dog to the area immediately surrounding your house to test for the presence of drugs? The United States Supreme Court recently decided this issue, which will affect the Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure-rights of suspects accused of drug crimes.

Background of the Case

The case arose out of Florida when law enforcement officers were investigating drug crimes. They received an anonymous tip that said that marijuana was being grown at a house. As a result, the officers went to the house and set up surveillance to monitor who left and approached the house.

When no one left or entered the house after time had passed, the officers called a colleague with a drug-detecting dog to the scene. The officer with the dog went to the front porch. When the dog reached the porch, he sat down near the door's threshold, indicating that there were drugs within the house.

Based on the dog's possible detection of drugs in the house, the officers obtained a search warrant for the premises. As the officers executed the warrant, the sole occupant of the house tried to flee out the back door, but was arrested. Upon a search of the house, officers found 179 marijuana plants, which were worth about $700,000. The suspect was then arrested for drug trafficking.

Was a Warrant Required?

At trial, the suspect's attorney objected to the introduction of the marijuana seized into evidence, arguing that the suspect's Fourth Amendment rights were violated, since officers failed to get a warrant before bringing the dog on the premises. The trial court and the Florida Supreme Court, on appeal, agreed with this argument, ruling that the evidence was inadmissible.

However, prosecutors decided to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final ruling. In a 5-4 decision, the court agreed with the lower courts that the bringing of the dog to the area immediately around the house to detect the possible presence of drugs constituted a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Because of this, the Constitution requires officers to get a warrant before they may bring a dog within close proximity of the premises.

The court's ruling strengthens everyone's right of privacy to the area immediately surrounding the home. In the past, the Supreme Court has ruled that in addition to the home itself, officers may not search the area immediately surrounding the home without getting a warrant first. This case makes it clear that the Fourth Amendment protections also apply to a drug-sniffing dog in addition to human officers.

As officers sometimes will skirt constitutional protections to make an arrest, if you have been accused of a drug crime, it is important to have the advice of an experienced attorney. An attorney can ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process.

Contact me at (303) 622-3281 to discuss your case in a complimentary evaluation.

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