Law enforcement agencies throughout the country devote significant resources toward the investigation of drug crimes. Many of these investigations start after officers receive tips about certain individuals who may be engaging in the manufacturing or selling of illegal drugs. Once police know which individuals to monitor, they will begin the process of gathering the evidence they will need to potentially make an arrest.
It is not uncommon for law enforcement to use questionable tactics during drug crimes investigations. This can result in some evidence being challenged because the procedures that police used violated the suspect's constitutional rights. A recent U.S. Supreme Court case could greatly expand the power that police have, which would lead to many more individuals being charged with drug crimes.
The Supreme Court case originated out of two Florida cases, and concerns the use of drug-detecting dogs. In the first case, police received a tip from a confidential informant that a person was growing marijuana inside a residence. Police went to the address, and conducted surveillance for approximately 15 minutes.
The officer then brought the drug-detecting dog to the scene, and led the dog to the porch of the residence. The dog alerted to the presence of drugs. Police used this information to then obtain a warrant to search the residence. During the search, the marijuana was uncovered, and the suspect arrested.
In the second case, a police officer was performing a routine traffic stop. When the officer began to question the driver, the officer noticed that the driver was demonstrating signs of drug use. The officer asked the motorist for permission to search the vehicle, and the motorist declined.
The officer then retrieved the drug-detecting dog and led the dog around the perimeter of the vehicle. The dog alerted to the vehicle's door handle. The officer used the dog's indication that drugs were present to search the suspect's vehicle, and chemicals used in meth manufacturing were found inside.
The Court will decide if police violated the Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure by failing to obtain a warrant prior to the use of the dogs. In both of these cases, the lower courts threw out the evidence because it was believed to have been obtained unlawfully.
Prosecutors in these cases insist that the individuals do not have a right to possess illegal materials inside their home or vehicle, and that the dogs merely alerted the officers that a further investigation would be necessary. Critics of the police tactics feel that there are too many questions about the success rate of drug-detecting dogs to completely base an entire investigation off of the dog's alerts.
The Court is expected to release a decision soon. If law enforcement is permitted to use the drug-detecting dogs without needing a warrant, many more individuals could be facing drug crimes charges. If you have been arrested for selling, possessing or manufacturing drugs, speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney to understand the options that are available to you. You have rights, and it is important to know what you need to do in this situation to protect yourself.