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Supreme Court hears arguments over drug-sniffing police dogs

The debate over the use of drug-sniffing dogs by police to search for illegal drugs continues to gain momentum. The U.S. Supreme Court is contributing to the debate and recently heard the first arguments over the legal implications of allowing drug-sniffing dogs on citizens' private property.

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in two separate Florida cases where police dogs were used to detect the presence of illegal drugs, which allowed the police to obtain a search warrant to search a man's home and another Florida man's vehicle. The search warrants led to the Florida men being arrested and charged with drug crimes.

Law enforcement officials have argued that using drug-sniffing dogs is a legal way to establish probable cause in order to obtain a search warrant. The defendants' lawyers and Fourth Amendment advocates argued that this practice violates property owner's privacy rights and allows unlawful search and seizure.

Defense attorneys are not the only ones questioning the use of drug-sniffing dogs by police. The Supreme Court justices have also questioned the ways drug-sniffing dogs may violate citizen's rights. The four liberal justices have been wary of the legal implications allowing dogs to sniff around a homeowner's property without probable cause. More conservative Justice Antonin Scalia also questioned the ways this impacts homeowner's privacy rights.

To address the opposition, law enforcement officials and prosecutors have argued that if homes do not have posted signs, there has been an implied consent for individuals to walk up to the property. Their main argument is that if police with drug-sniffing drugs walk up to or around an individual's property and the dogs alert police that illegal drugs are present, probable cause has been established to obtain a search warrant. Prosecutors also argued that police dogs are highly reliable and receive excellent training for finding illegal drugs.

This debate will continue to be argued by many but the when the Supreme Court does decide their opinion, it could have a huge impact on drug cases throughout the U.S. that rely on search warrants based on evidence found by drug-sniffing dogs. It is unknown how the decision would impact previous drug cases but if alerts from drug-sniffing dogs no longer provide probable cause for search warrants, police will need to find other areas of probable cause to obtain a search warrant before making a drug arrest.

Source: The New York Times, "Drug-Sniffing Dogs Have Their Day in Court as Justices Hear 2 Arguments," Justin Liptak, Oct. 31, 2012

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