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A Dog-Sniff Search


On October 31, 2012, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in a search and seizure case involving the use of a drug-sniffing dog on the outside of a home.

In Florida v. Jardines, after receiving a tip, a police detective visited the defendant’s home, watched it for fifteen minutes, and waited for a drug-sniffing dog to arrive on the scene. The K-9 officer arrived, took his leashed dog up to the front of the home, and the dog alerted to the smell of marijuana. Based in part on the dog’s alert, a search warrant was issued, and officers found marijuana in the home, arresting the defendant as a result.

The trial court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence and the court of appeals reversed, ruling that the dog-sniff was not an illegal search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. The Florida Supreme Court reversed, stating that current “dog sniff” analyses did not apply to a home search. The Court ruled that a dog-sniff of a home is a search, and requires a showing of probable cause to be legal. The United States Supreme Court granted review to determine if a dog-sniff at the front door of a home is a search requiring probable cause under the Fourth Amendment.

The typical dog-sniff case is one that involves a roadside stop of a car, and the dog is brought to the vehicle to sniff both the inside and outside of the car. Prior United States Supreme Court cases say that a dog-sniff is not an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment, so long as the sniff does not extend the length of a vehicle stop. However, in the situation of home searches, the United States Supreme Court has made clear that “sense-enhancing technology” may not be used to show something inside the home.

This issue is of great importance to both Oregon Criminal law and Federal law. The outcome of the Jardines case will have a big effect on people’s privacy in their homes. If the government wins, the police can use a drug-sniffing dog to walk around a home without any probable cause that the person is doing something illegal. If the defendant wins, privacy inside one’s home will be defended.

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