US Supreme Court to Hear Dog Case

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There’s a case that’s been winding its way through Florida courts and now, after the Florida Supreme Court has ruled, it’s being bumped up to the US Supreme Court. At issue is when a “dog sniff” is a search requiring a warrant and when it is not. The term, “dog sniff” is used throughout the legal proceedings to mean having a trained drug dog sniff a particular location.

In this case, neither the validity nor accuracy of the dog’s nose, nor the interaction between dog and handler is being questioned. Rather, these are being taken as givens in a similar way to an instrument that records incriminating evidence. So, for example, if the cops use a thermal imaging camera to spot a house with a hot room (perhaps for growing marijuana), that would be an unbiased measurement. In the dog sniff scenario, the dog only identifies illegal substances, so there is no assumption about a hot room (which might be a spa) indicating drugs. The dog and handler say drugs and drugs it is.

So, the question is whether or not a police officer can come to your front door and allow their dog to tell them you have contraband. The original court said no, that was a violation of privacy protections against illegal search – no warrant had been obtained. The appeals court said, yes, it’s OK. The Florida Supreme Court reversed the appeals court. And now the US Supreme Court will hear the case.

Interestingly, previous cases have used different standards. For example, a dog sniff at the door of an apartment was allowed, and it is common to use a drug dog to search after a traffic stop and to check luggage at the airport. However, it isn’t legal to just walk your drug dog along in a parking lot hoping for a lucky hit. However, it is perfectly legal to take that same dog into a school and wander the halls, waiting for it to alert on a student’s locker.

Hopefully, the Supremes will clarify the issues.

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