The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Drug-Sniffing Dogs: Where and When Can They Be Used?

Due to their powerful sense of smell and extensive training, drug-sniffing police dogs can smell narcotics from a mile away (figuratively speaking). The invasive nature of their use has raised interesting questions about the right to privacy.

So when and where can drug-sniffing dogs be used? A few recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court have shed light on the subject. Below, you'll find an explanation of those decisions and how they apply to you.

At Home Without a Warrant

Individuals generally have a strong right to privacy while at home. The Supreme Court recently held that the right can extend outside of the home as well. In that case, police received a tip that marijuana was being grown inside a Florida home, but they didn't have a warrant to conduct a search. Nevertheless, while outside the home, a police dog alerted officers to the presence of drugs inside.

The Court held that the use of drug-sniffing dogs outside of a home to detect drugs inside constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment and, consequently, requires a warrant. The use of the police dog in the case was, therefore, an illegal search, according to the Court. That means officers may no longer use drug-sniffing dogs outside of a home to detect contraband inside, unless they have a warrant to do so.

Traffic Stops

While homes and the surrounding area are off-limits, cars and other vehicles are a different story. Back in 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that police may use drug-sniffing dogs outside of a car during a routine traffic stop, even when officers have no reason to suspect the car is carrying narcotics.

Last month, the Court took it one step further, holding that police officers can rely on drug-sniffing dogs for probable cause to conduct a search of a car. That means that if a police dog alerts officers during a traffic stop, they could have cause to search your car.

Airports and Borders

Similar to traffic stops, the Court has held that there's no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the public space around luggage. As a result, police may use drug-sniffing dogs to patrol airports, borders, and even schools without violating anyone's Fourth Amendment rights. Of course, in order to search or seize a bag, police will need probable cause or the owner's consent.

These are just a few examples of where and when drug-sniffing dogs can be used. If you have questions about how drug dogs were used in your particular case, you may want to consult an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer.

Related Resources: