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U.S. Supreme Court Soon to Hear Florida Drug Dog-Sniffing Case
America's highest court will soon decide whether a dog can sniff the outside of a house to detect illegal drugs.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects all U.S. citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. For example, police cannot enter a private residence to search for drugs without a warrant. However, the fringes of Fourth Amendment protections have been the subject of much debate by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court will soon add to the law regarding search and seizure law in a case that originates out of Florida and involves Franky, the drug-sniffing dog.

The incident in question occurred when police used Franky in the archway of a private home to search for illegal drugs. The dog alerted the authorities to the presence of contraband, and the police subsequently entered the home to discover a marijuana grow house. The police did not have a warrant. The owner of the home was subsequently charged with drug cultivation.

However, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that this was a search and therefore deserved the protection of the U.S. Constitution. Prosecutors appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming that since the dog was only trying to find illegal activities, not legal activities, it was not an invasion of privacy and did not constitute a search.

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the use of an infrared camera to detect the growing of illegal drugs was a search under the U.S. Constitution and required police to obtain a warrant. Previous decisions, however, have held that dog sniffing outside of luggage and cars does not constitute a search.

Oral arguments will occur in May, and a decision is expected in June.

Constitutional Rights

If the U.S. Supreme Court does overturn Florida’s high court decision, it would add to the number of situations in which evidence found in warrantless searches and seizures can be used in court. Generally speaking, police can seize anything that is public information. If seizing private information, police need a warrant, except under certain circumstances, such as:

  • A short stop-and-frisk that does not amount to an arrest
  • Evidence found that is incident to an arrest, for example finding evidence of a different crime while arresting a person on other suspected charges
  • If the evidence is in plain view to the police officer
  • If the person consents to a search

These are just a few examples of long-debated Constitutional rights regarding police searches and seizures. Other protections exist as well, such as the rights of arrested individuals to receive “Miranda” warnings, and the right to be free from police brutality.

Under the exclusionary rule, any evidence obtained in violation of an individual’s Fourth Amendment protections cannot be used as evidence in court.

If you have been charged with a drug crime, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer familiar with protecting the constitutional rights of those accused of a crime.

Keywords: Fourth Amendment, search and seizure
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