The U.S. Supreme Court decided the controversy over whether dog-sniffs can be used to determine probable cause last month in the case of Florida v. Jardines. Dog-sniffs are a controversial topic in criminal law because specially trained dogs have been used for years by law enforcement, but the reliability has been questionable. This unreliability has raised issues of injustice and constitutional violations, namely whether a persons Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures has been violated by relying on a dog to establish probable cause.
Use of Dog-Sniffs Before Jardines
The most notable case that first raised this particular issue was U.S. v. Place, decided in 1983. In Place, DEA agents employed a drug dog to sniff passenger’s luggage at an airport to alert law enforcement to the presence of narcotics. One traveler challenged the use of the dogs as an unreasonable search used without the requisite probable cause. The Court rejected this and held that the sniff test was not a search because its use was limited, did not invade anyone’s privacy (other than to reveal the presence of illegal drugs), and was performed in a public place where privacy expectations are less.
The next major development in this area of law came from the case, Illinois v. Caballes. In Caballes, an Illinois Trooper used a drug dog to sniff around vehicles he pulled over to alert him to the presence of drugs. One motorist challenged this stop as a violation of his constitutional rights in the same way Place did. The Court again rejected the argument on the grounds that no one has a right to privacy in possessing illegal drugs. Also, the Court claimed that the dog-sniff revealed nothing else personal or private so no search was conducted and thus no rights violated.
The Law Now
In Jardines, police used a drug dog to sniff the front porch of Jardines home. The dog gave a positive alert for narcotics, which the police used as a basis to obtain a search warrant where they found a marijuana grow operation inside. Jardines defended his Fourth Amendment rights all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, who agreed with him. The Court held that the police violated the Fourth Amendment by conducting a search of a man’s home without probable cause. Without probable cause, there was no reason for the police to be there so anything they found as a result of an unlawful search was inadmissible evidence.
The state of the law now is that dog-sniffs cannot be used to establish probable cause to search a home. What is important to keep in mind is that the law treats homes differently than other places. We have the most privacy protection in our home. Dog-sniffs may still be upheld as valid law enforcement tools in places like airports and roads where the risks to public safety are great.
This is an example of how a strong defense can help you protect your rights. With so many nuances to the law and it changing all the time, your first call should always be to a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney if you are ever confronted with a legal issue.