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U.S. Supreme Court places limits on use of drug sniffing dogs

The United States Supreme Court just ruled that police cannot bring drug-sniffing dogs onto one's property without first obtaining a search warrant. Though many have argued that this would not technically be considered a search, there is likely little other reason that law enforcement officers would have the dogs on the property if the dogs were not being used to find illegal contraband.

This case came about after an individual was arrested for allegedly having 179 marijuana plants at the home with an estimated value of $700,000. Apparently, police obtained a warrant to search this individual's property only after they brought a dog near the house that supposedly detected the odor of marijuana on the base of the front door. 

This ruling will affect the way searches are conducted in Colorado and across the country. Criminal defense attorneys do have the right to protect their clients from unreasonable search and seizure, and to prevent having evidence used in such searches from being used against them. Justice Scalia, the author of the majority opinion and generally considered one of the most conservative justices on the bench, stated: "The police cannot, without warrant based on probable cause, hang around on the lawn or in the side garden, trawling for evidence and perhaps peering into the windows of the home."

Justice Alito, one of the dissenting judges, felt that any reasonable person would understand that odors do emanate from homes that can be noticed by outside people. That this may be true does not necessarily pertain to this situation, however.

Justice Kagan wrote in a concurring opinion that, "A drug detection dog is a specialized device for discovering objects not in plain view (or plain smell)." She went further by stating that the search constituted both a trespass and an invasion of privacy - privacy being a primary concern when it comes to an individual's rights when owning a home.

Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal, "Court: Drug dog sniff is unconstitutional search," by Jesse J. Holland, March 26, 2013

  • Please visit our Denver, Colorado attorneys' website for more information regarding drug charges and the legal consequences.

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