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Do police need a warrant to use drug-sniffing dogs?

On Behalf of | Sep 23, 2019 | Drug Charges |

Law enforcement officials in Wheeling are often given a great deal of leeway when it comes to the discovery of potential crimes. At the same time, however, they must respect your rights (as well as those of others) during the course of an investigation. This includes the application of technology to your case. One type of “technology” that authorities have employed for years in the investigative process (particularly when looking into potential drug crimes) is the use of drug-sniffing dogs. You might think that scent (which is what police drugs primarily rely on when searching a property) is well within the public domain, which then begs the question of whether or not a warrant is needed to deploy drug-sniffing dogs on your property?

The Supreme Court of the United States says that one is. In a landmark 2013 ruling, the Court upheld an earlier state court ruling that defined the use of a drug-sniffing dog as a search. The Fourth Amendment protects you from illegal searches and seizures of your property, thus making it necessary for law enforcement officers to establish probable cause to search your property and to reinforce that cause by seeking a search warrant. 

In justifying its decision, the Court explained that an officer approaching a home (even with the intent to look around) does not require a search warrant because any private citizen is able to that. Bringing a dog on to your property for the express purpose of uncovering evidence is another matter. Police dogs are specifically trained to perform tasks related to law enforcement (unlike your neighbor’s dog). Therefore, introducing them to a property goes beyond a customary invitation, and thus must be prefaced with obtaining a search warrant.