Drug Detection Dogs an Issue in U.S. Supreme Court Cases

Frequently, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear cases that are focused on the actions of law enforcement. The power that police have is often expanded by the Court, making it easier for police to investigate for evidence of crimes. Two of the cases currently before the Court may weaken the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against illegal searches and seizures.

Both of the cases that the Court is hearing involve drug crimes, and originate in Florida. In one of the cases, police officers received information that marijuana was being grown at the defendant's home. This information was relayed over a "crime stoppers" tip line, and was not independently verified. One month after receiving the tip, officers went to the individual's home and observed the area. The officer monitored the home for 15 minutes.

Nothing happened during this time period. After the 15 minutes passed, an officer and drug-detecting dog arrived on scene. The dog was led to the front door of the residence, where it indicated signs that demonstrated the presence of illegal substances. The officers then obtained a warrant, and found the drugs inside the home.

In the second case, the defendant was driving in his vehicle, and was pulled over by police for having expired tags. The officer that made the stop approached the vehicle, and noticed that the motorist had an open can of beer within reach. Police asked for consent to search the vehicle, and the man refused. The drug-detecting dog did a check of the air around the vehicle for the presence of drugs, and alerted the officer to the driver's door handle.

Under the driver's seat, police found materials that would be used in meth manufacturing. The motorist admitted to engaging in both using and manufacturing meth, and was arrested.

The key question presented in this case concerns whether the use of a drug-detecting dog is a search under the Fourth Amendment. If so, did the officers who used these dogs without warrants conduct illegal searches?

If the Court allows this type of behavior, it could open the door for police in cities across Arizona to use similar investigatory tactics. One of the questions that some Justices have is whether or not drug-detection dogs have enough training to spot the drugs. Sometimes dogs may signal false positives because of external factors, such as the actions of their handlers.

If you have been charged with a drug crime, speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney to understand the options that are available to you. Prosecutors will use whatever evidence that you provide against you, and they are not on your side. You need to protect your rights throughout the process.

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