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Do police need a warrant to use drug search dogs?

Drug dogs are very good at sniffing out illegal substances. There is no rule that prohibits law enforcement from using this tool in gathering evidence, but there are rules on how drug dogs can be used in gaining evidence. Two cases went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which means that these rules apply to police across the United States. These rules govern how drug dogs can be used at a traffic stop and when searching your home for drugs.


Traffic stops


A Nebraska K-9 officer stopped Rodriguez in a routine traffic stop. The officer issued a warning to Rodriguez for driving on the highway shoulder. Then, the officer asked Rodriguez for permission to walk around the vehicle with his dog. Rodriguez refused. The officer detained him until another officer arrived. The car was searched. The dog alerted to drugs. Rodriguez was arrested. He argued that the search was unlawful.


In Rodriguez v. United States No. 13-9972, the Supreme Court agreed. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote for the majority, “A police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.” The case was sent back to the lower courts to determine whether the police officer had reasonable suspicion to detain the vehicle. The basic rule is now that the police cannot detain a vehicle after the traffic stop is made to allow a drug dog to search the vehicle.


At your home


In Florida v. Jardines, No. 11-564, Miami police had received a tip that a home in their jurisdiction was being used as a marijuana grow house. A drug dog sniffed the house from the front porch, alerted police to the scent of marijuana, which the police used as evidence to gain a warrant for entry into the home. Jardines, the homeowner, argued that the evidence should be suppressed because a canine search is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.


In 2011, the case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the question, “Whether a dog sniff at the front door of a suspected grow house by a trained narcotics detection dog is a Fourth Amendment search requiring probable cause?” Justice Scalia affirmed that the use of trained drug dogs on someone’s property required a warrant.


Find the best outcome for your situation


Drug charges are serious. Conviction of possession or trafficking can lead to harsh penalties that can affect you for years. Talking to an attorney experienced in criminal defense can be one of the best things you do for yourself if you have been charged to make sure that all of your rights are protected. 

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