Crossing the line: When do drug dogs need search warrants?

Dogs in Florida, and throughout the U.S., commonly provide people with a number of services beyond just companionship. Often, law enforcement agencies use K-9 officers to help them detect illegal drugs, as well as to perform other tasks. Since drug dogs essentially perform searches just by sniffing their noses, their use has raised questions regarding people’s constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizure. Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States has made significant rulings on drug dogs and the legalities of their use.

The Use of Drug Dogs During Traffic Stops

In 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that it was okay for law enforcement officers to use drug dogs during traffic stops. This was permitted as long as it did not prolong the stop, or otherwise invade people’s reasonable expectations of privacy. This limitation was taken even further by a recent ruling in a case called Rodriguez v. United States. In that case, the Court ruled that police may not use routine traffic stops as a pretext for conducting vehicle searches with drug-sniffing dogs.

The Rodriguez arose from a case in which a man charged with drug possession after his vehicle was searched by police dogs following a routine stop for a minor traffic violation. He claimed the search was unlawful because it was conducted after he had already been issued a warning for the unrelated matter. The officer had forced the man to wait several minutes for a second officer to arrive on the scene and conduct the search. The Court ruled that this was unreasonable, and that a driver may only be detained as long as necessary to complete the intended objective of the stop.

However, it is important to understand that there are still situations in which police may use drug dogs to search a vehicle during a traffic stop. This can happen if evidence is uncovered during the course of a routine traffic stop that suggests there may be drugs in the vehicle. This could include an alert from a drug-sniffing dog or other factors, such as an odor of marijuana smoke, visible drug paraphernalia within the vehicle, or behaviors suggesting that an occupant of the vehicle may be under the influence of drugs.

Drug Sniffing Dogs on Private Property

In addition to their use at traffic stops, K-9 officers are also frequently taken to people’s residences, and other private properties. Based on a 2013 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States, law enforcement officers must have a warrant in order to use drug dogs on private property. Without a search warrant, even just bringing a K-9 officer onto a person’s private property could be viewed as an unlawful search and seizure.

The court’s ruling came in a case where law enforcement agents obtained a search warrant for a man’s home after a dog detected drugs there. The authorities were not invited onto the property, nor did they have a search warrant. The court determined that the investigation was a search under the fourth amendment. Since the warrant was, at least in part, based on the dog’s detection, it was deemed that the law enforcement officers did not have probable cause. As such, the evidence in the case was suppressed.

Excluding Improperly Obtained Evidence

When police obtain evidence illegally, for instance during the course of an unlawful traffic stop or home search, that evidence may not be admissible in court. This law helps make sure that people’s Constitutional rights are upheld and that police follow proper procedures. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to have evidence excluded due to improper procedures, lack of probable cause, unreliability of the dog’s alerting behavior or other case-specific factors. However, having evidence excluded from trial can be a complicated process and it is important to have help from a skilled criminal defense lawyer when attempting to do so.

Do You Believe Your Property Was Searched Without a Warrant?

Being charged with a criminal offense can have a life changing impact on people in Orlando, and elsewhere. Therefore, it may benefit those who have been arrested and are facing charges to work with an attorney. A legal representative may aid them in establishing a strong criminal defense, which may include questioning whether their rights were violated during law enforcement investigations and searches.