Recent U.S. Supreme Court Rulings Define Use Of Drug Dogs

Recent rulings from the U.S. Supreme court have provided clarifications on when drug dogs can be used in investigations.

Law enforcement agencies often rely on the use of specially trained dogs to locate stashes of illegal drugs. People living in Colorado Springs are aware that these drug dogs are brought in to search homes, airports and even cars on the roadside. Concern over whether these searches violate people's constitutional rights have led a path to the nation's highest court in recent years.

Sniff on a doorstep

In Florida, law enforcement officers found 179 marijuana plants in a home after a drug dog alerted them. According to The Huffington Post, Authorities suspected that marijuana was being grown in the home after they got a tip. However, they did not get a warrant until a drug dog indicated the presence of the drug by sitting down. The dog had been brought to the front door of the home by an officer.

The occupant of the home was arrested and charged with several offenses. He claimed that the dog's sniff was an unconstitutional search and filed a motion to have the evidence, obtained during the search, tossed out. The U.S. Supreme Court ended up hearing the case and agreed with the man's claim. Reuters reports the justices pointed out that since this was a residence and not a public place, the man had a right to expect a certain amount of privacy. Furthermore, the dog was not a family pet, but a trained member of law enforcement, and the sole purpose of bringing the dog to the door was to conduct a search.

The ruling made it clear that law enforcement must obtain a search warrant before a trained drug dog can be brought onto private property.

Extended traffic stop

The Supreme Court recently made another clarification of search and seizure laws in a case involving the use of a drug dog. In this case, a man was charged with federal drug offenses after a large amount of methamphetamine was located in his vehicle. The drugs were detected by a trained canine drug dog after the man was stopped for a traffic infraction. The man argued that the search of his vehicle violated his rights.

In this case, the high court noted that from the time the man was stopped to the discovery of drugs, several minutes had passed. The initial reason for the stop had been solved with a written warning from the officer. After conducting this business, the officer then detained the man to wait for a second officer. When the second officer arrived, the dog was brought over to the vehicle even though the driver had denied the officer's request to conduct a canine search.

Due to the delay of the stop, the justices ruled that this search was unconstitutional as the original issue had already been dealt with - there was no reason to detain him further. However, had the officer detected something suspicious during the initial stop, then the dog's sniff would not have been a violation of the driver's rights.

Protection of rights

When people in Colorado have been charged with a crime, they should understand that despite any incriminating evidence, they still have privacy rights. If people feel that their constitutional rights have been violated by law enforcement, they may want to meet with an attorney who can help them understand such law.