Sniffing out Trouble: Can Law Enforcement bring Drug-Sniffing Dogs to your Front Door without a Warrant?

fourth amendment, your rights, privacy, search and seizure, search warrantThe first Ten Amendments to the United States Constitution is known as the Bill of Rights. Under the Bill of Rights, Americans are guaranteed certain fundamental rights that protect them from government intervention into their personal affairs. Among those rights is the Fourth Amendment right protecting a person against unreasonable search and seizure.

The Fourth Amendment also requires that a warrant, based upon probable cause, must be issued by an impartial magistrate before the government is allowed to search any persons house, papers, or “effects.” However, there are few exceptions to this rule, which allow law enforcement into your home without a warrant, such as emergency circumstances or consent.

 The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that a reasonable expectation of privacy also exists in those areas immediately surrounding a house or dwelling, known as the curtilage. This means that law enforcement cannot come up to an individual’s windows and peer in with hopes of finding contraband or incriminating evidence. It has always been within the rights of law enforcement to walk up to a person’s door and knock, looking to speak with the someone inside. However, the Supreme Court had never spoken to those times when law enforcement walks up to an individuals door with a narcotics dog and knocks, looking to speak to someone inside, until 2013 in Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409 (2013).

Canine Search Not Allowed Under Fourth Amendment

 Law enforcement in Miami, Florida had received an anonymous tip that a home was being used as a grow house for marijuana. Upon receiving the tip, Police brought a narcotics sniffing dog to the front door in hopes that the dog would alert the officers to the presence of contraband. The dog alerted police at the front door, signaling that contraband was inside, and a search warrant was issued based on the information given by the dog. The warrant resulted in the homeowner being arrested and charged with marijuana trafficking and grand theft for stealing electricity that he used to run his sophisticated operation. When the defendant argued that the search was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment, the Florida court ruled that a canine sniff is not a Fourth Amendment search.

 The defendant continued to appeal basing his argument on his Fourth Amendment right protecting him against unreasonable searches and seizure until finally the United States Supreme Court heard his case on October 31, 2012. In a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement conducted a “search” when they entered the property and took the dog to Mr. Jardine’s front door.

 This ruling is significant in contracting the ability of law enforcement to infringe upon an individual’s privacy in and around their home. While an officer is allowed to come to an individual’s front door and perform what is known as a “knock and talk,” an individual has the right to not answer the door, and nor do the police need to be allowed in. Further, if an officer comes to an individual’s front door with a narcotics sniffing dog without a warrant, law enforcement is operating outside the realms of the Fourth Amendment according to this new ruling from the Supreme Court.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Illinois Constitutional rights are important to each person’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, and law enforcement officials do not necessarily abide by the rights guaranteed to each person in their desire to find evidence of crimes. The attorneys at Law Office of Glenn M. Sowa, LLC are knowledgeable in Fourth Amendment search and seizure laws, and can help you protect your rights.