The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution states that people have the right to privacy and that extends to the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Police are not permitted to search a person without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, and they cannot search a home without probable cause and a search warrant. What about sniffs from police dogs? Is a dog sniff a search? Do the police have to have probable cause and a warrant to have a trained police dog sniff you and alert if it smells drugs?
In 2005, the United States Supreme Court held that dog sniffs conducted in public are not a search and not an invasion of privacy. Police were given free reign to use dogs to search for drugs at airports, traffic stops, and anywhere in public without having to have probable cause or a search warrant.
In Florida v. Jardines (No. 11-564), the question currently pending before the Court is whether a police officer can take a trained drug dog up to someone’s front door, without a warrant or probable cause, to sniff for drugs. The justices heard oral arguments on this issue on October 31, 2012.
The case before the Court involved a police dog named Franky. In 2006, police took Franky up to the front door of a Florida man’s home and had him sniff for drugs. The dog alerted that he smelled drugs. The police then used that sniff to request a warrant to search the home. They found marijuana plants growing in the home and the man was convicted. During oral argument, the Justices voiced concerns with the fact that the police went to the front door of the home. The home, and the curtilage of the home, have long been given grave deference by the Court. It is the one place where a person can most expect privacy. That is why police must not only have probable cause to search a home, but also a search warrant. The Justices were concerned that the sniff itself was a search. Unlike the 2005 decision, the sniff was conducted in an area where a person was entitled to privacy. The court distinguished a sniff at a front door from a sniff in a public place. A sniff in public is not a search at all, as there is no expectation of privacy. The police do not need probable cause or a warrant to conduct that sniff. A sniff done at the front door of a private home, however, is much closer to a search in the one place a person has the most right to privacy.
If the Court rules that this was a search and the officer did not have probable cause or a search warrant, then any evidence obtained from the illegal search will be inadmissible and the conviction will likely be overturned. The Court’s comments during argument seemed to indicate they believed this was an invasion of privacy and an illegal search. A decision is expected by next summer.
Any evidence obtained by the police or the prosecution that violates your Fourth Amendment right to privacy and to be free from unreasonable search and seizure is inadmissible.
If you are facing criminal charges, it is critical to have a skilled attorney represent you to ensure that any evidence that is admitted was obtained legally. This office handles all types of matters related to defending criminal charges and opposing illegal searches and seizures. Contact us for advice.