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Dog Sniff Searches Up to Snuff?

In the last few years, police tactics have been on the forefront of the privacy discussion, determining in and out of court the scope in which the police may invade the privacy rights of citizens. In this blog and in the news, the electronic devices used by police officers to reveal information about the insides and goings on within the houses of suspects have been evaluated and assessed to decide if police are going beyond what is permitted by the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment Guarantees

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures of persons, their papers and effects, and their home. Justice Scalia has stated, time and time again, that the ability of citizens to retreat to the safety and privacy of their home is of the utmost right and should not be violated by the law. But what if the device in question is not a Range-R device (which can “see” through common building materials to the insides of the house using waves) or a thermal camera (which can show the “hots and colds” of the interior of the house), but is your happy-go-lucky dog with an expert sense of smell. Where does that fall on the reasonable spectrum of searches and seizures without a warrant?

Dog-Sniffs and the Fourth Amendment

In the last few years, dogs have been the subject of serious debate. They may be distinguished from Range-R devices or thermal cameras because they are not electronic devices created by the alphabet soup of government agencies. Dogs use only their natural senses, just like police officers are generally required to do to keep a review of a scene “reasonable.” Police officers may use all of their senses to evaluate a scene, just as an average citizen in the public would do. Is it different that a dog may sense more from a suspect’s house because of his sharper sense of smell than a police officer?

The Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Take on Dog Sniffs

The Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have found that a dog sniff constitutes an unreasonable search if not accompanied by a warrant. There are a few circumstances that the Courts identified that would constitute an unreasonable search if a dog was brought in to investigate.

  • First, the Supreme Court decided that if a dog who has received the proper training has been alerted to a suspect smell on a vehicle, the police may investigate that alert and search the vehicle. The Supreme Court in this case evaluated the Florida Supreme Court and its system’s checklist detailing the proof that must be found to support the dog’s reliability. In other words, if the police in Florida can proof that their dogs have gone through adequate drug-sniffing training, the police may use any “alert” that the dogs give them as a “probable cause” to search. The Court defined the standard as the “reasonably prudent person” test stating that if a reasonably prudent person could take the dog’s alert as a sign of illegal activity and that a search would produce further evidence of the illicit activity, then a search may proceed.
  • Second, in a case which followed the previous finding, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Florida Supreme Court’s finding that a dog sniff at the front door of a suspect’s home is considered to be a search for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment and therefore, it is unreasonable without a warrant.
  • Finally, the most recent case, is being reviewed by the U.S Supreme Court to determine whether or not a dog-sniff may be part of a routine traffic stop. The issue that will come under fire is whether a dog sniff should be allowed in suspicionless traffic stops where detaining someone is more for traffic safety and to deter drunk drivers, rather than to investigate every single car that passes for an unreasonable amount of time and for any crime.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

If you or a loved one has been arrested as a result of evidence provided by a dog sniff or dog alert, this evidence may have been collected as a result of a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. It is important to speak with an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik. Contact the Law Offices of Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation.

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