Protecting the right of people to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures is at the heart of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Minnesota mirrors the protections of the Fourth Amendment in article I, section 10 of the state constitution. State and federal courts frequently must decide if evidence seized by law enforcement officers and used to prove criminal charges violates the Minnesota and federal constitutional protections.
In some of these cases, a police dog trained to detect the scent of drugs is used to establish grounds for the search. While a dog’s sense of smell may provide grounds for a search of a motor vehicle, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that using drug-sniffing dogs to pick up the scent of drugs inside a home violated the Fourth Amendment.
Do drug-sniffing dogs constitute an unreasonable search?
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a dog trained to detect the scent of drugs is a reliable source to establish probable cause to search a motor vehicle stopped for a traffic violation or at a DUI roadblock. The Minnesota Supreme Court extended the use of dogs to searches of a person’s home or apartment in 2007.
The Minnesota court ruled that a police dog’s signal could be sufficient support for a request for a search warrant to enter and search an apartment. The court held that such use of a drug-sniffing dog did not violate the apartment owner’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy.
This decision appears to be at odds with the most recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, in which it held that police use of a drug-sniffing dog to detect the scent of marijuana from outside a person’s home was an unconstitutional intrusion.
The case before the U.S. Supreme Court involved an individual who was growing marijuana in his private residence. A drug-sniffing dog alerted to the presence of marijuana, which police used as justification to obtain a warrant to search the house. Citing Fourth Amendment prohibitions on unreasonable searches, the high court ruled against the use of drug-sniffing dogs to establish probable cause to enter a home.
Protect your rights
A person accused of committing a crime in which police gathered evidence by a search and seizure should retain the services of a criminal defense attorney. The protections offered by the U.S. and Minnesota constitutions can only help if the accused person challenges the procedures used by the police.