The Fourth Amendment protects people in Minneapolis from unreasonable search and seizure. This means that law enforcement cannot simply walk into people’s homes, stop them on the street or pull them over for a traffic violation without a warrant. In order to get a warrant, law enforcement must convince a judge that a crime, such as drug trafficking, has been or is being committed.
A dog’s sniff
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to define the law relating to search and seizure involving drug sniffing dogs. In 2006, law enforcement had set up surveillance on a home in Florida. Officers believed that marijuana was being grown in the home but apparently had no concrete evidence. One of the officers walked up to the home’s front door, accompanied by a drug dog.
The dog immediately sat down, a passive sign that he detected the presence of drugs. The dog’s sniff was then used by officers to obtain a search warrant and seized 179 marijuana plants. In the bust, a man was captured and charged with trafficking the drug. The man’s criminal defense attorney argued that the dog’s sniff was unconstitutional. The trial judge agreed. The case then went through the state’s system and an appeal was filed by prosecutors after the state’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the man.
In the opinion written by the Supreme Court, the justices agreed that the dog’s sniff was an unwarranted search, thereby violating the man’s constitutional rights. The reasons for the ruling include the following:
- The dog was not a neighbor’s dog but a trained canine officer.
- The purpose for bringing the dog was to conduct a subtle search.
- The dog was on private property.
The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote that law enforcement must obtain a warrant before bringing a drug sniffing dog onto private property, including yards. Officers without a warrant can walk up to a home and knock on the door, the opinion noted, because of the fact that any citizen would do so.
In order for law enforcement to obtain a search warrant, they must have probable cause. Probable cause consists of statements from witnesses, police observation, and behavior of the people involved. For example, officers might be able to use the fact that known drug users are showing up at a specific house in order to get a warrant for that location to search for drugs.
If an officer sees someone breaking the law, such as driving too fast, or assaulting another person, that observation may also be used as evidence to get a search warrant. People should understand that they have rights though and without a warrant, they don’t have to allow officers onto their property or into their home, and especially canine drug officers.