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Can a drug dog search your property without a warrant?

Law enforcement uses dogs to sniff out bombs, drugs and cadavers to gather evidence of a crime. The validity of using dogs is not generally in question, but the validity of a search does come up on occasion. The U.S. Supreme Court has responded to whether the police can use dogs to search private property. Here are two seminal cases that cover the issue.

Searching your car at a traffic stop

In Rodriguez v. United States, the Court determined that the police could not prolong a traffic stop to use a drug dog to sniff a car. In the case, Mr. Rodriguez was pulled over in a routine traffic stop and issued a written warning. After the warning was issued, the police officer had his drug-sniffing dog circle the vehicle. The dog alerted to the presence of drugs. The office found methamphetamine and arrested Rodriguez.

Rodriguez moved to get the evidence suppressed on a violation of Fourth Amendment rights. The lower courts denied his claim, which went to the Supreme Court. Justice Ginsberg wrote the decision for the Court, stating, "An officer, in other words, may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic stop... he may not do so in a way that prolongs the stop, absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual."

Searching your home

In a separate case, Florida v. Jardines, in question was whether drug-sniffing dogs could be used on a person's porch without a search warrant. The police obtained a warrant to search the home based on a drug-sniffing dog's alert from outside the home. Jardines' lawyer argued that the dog was used to conduct an illegal search. The search was invalidated by the trial judge, but the state appeals court disagreed with that decision.

When the case got to the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the opinion, agreeing with Jardines, "At the amendment's very core stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable government intrusion." He compared the search by the drug dog to an agent standing in the side garden of the house to "trawl for evidence with impunity."

Are you facing criminal drug charges?

A felony conviction has lifelong consequences. When it is a drug crime, you could potentially lose your license or be required to forfeit your car or other assets. You may benefit from the assistance of an experienced attorney who can help you assess your situation and find the best outcome.

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