South Florida Drug-Sniffing Dog Case Goes to U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear a Miami case and decide whether police drug-sniffing dogs can be used to lead to searches even without evidence of criminal conduct.

This is a major Fourth Amendment issue that our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys will be following closely. Fort Lauderdale drug cases are serious crimes and the evidence that police attempt to bring into a case must be thoroughly scrutinized.
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In a Florida court case that will affect all future and possibly past defendants, the nation’s high court will now make a determination about whether this police tool violates citizen’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

This case started in Miami, where police got a tip that a house was being used for growing marijuana. They took a drug-sniffing dog to the house and the dog sat down, which it is trained to do when it smells drugs. Based on that information, police obtained a search warrant and found 179 marijuana plants inside the house.

This is a real subjective law enforcement tool. Dogs recently hit on Snoop Dogg’s tour bus in Texas. The man has spent a decade talking about the benefits of marijuana and has a medical marijuana card in California. A fish swimming in an aquarium could have “hit” on his tour bus.

It can be little more than an excuse for law enforcement to go on a fishing expedition.

In this case on appeal, the Florida Supreme Court threw out the evidence, stating that they were unwilling to allow dog sniff tests unless police had probable cause of criminal activity ahead of time. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, agreed to listen to the case after Florida prosecutors argued that a dog sniffing for drugs shouldn’t be classified as a “search.”

Eighteen states have backed Florida prosecutors’ appeal, stating that drug dogs are an important tool for police fighting drug crimes in Fort Lauderdale and elsewhere. The high court typically sides with police in search cases, though not always.

Justices will hear argument on the case in April and have said they will make a ruling on drug-sniffing dogs by June. The case is Florida v. Jardines.

Any case that goes before the U.S. Supreme Court is going to have major implications on people everywhere. Simply because it is a case stemming from Florida doesn’t mean that it will affect only Florida law enforcement agencies. It will affect every police agency and citizen.

This case is interesting because it goes to the root of our very rights as citizens. The Fourth Amendment was written so that police couldn’t simply break into a person’s house, without justification, and look for a reason to arrest a person. That is a terrifying thought. Apparently law enforcement thinks its okay to do so as long as they are with a dog?

People have the right not to have that happen, under any circumstances. The interesting thing about this case is that it deals with the tactics police use to obtain a search warrant from a judge. It also could affect the future of the use of drug-sniffing dogs, not only by police, but also bomb-sniffing dogs at airports and other venues.

The Florida Supreme Court was willing to uphold citizens’ rights, preventing them from being searched by police officers who don’t have any clear evidence. But it remains to be seen what the U.S. Supreme Court does. These justices tend to side with police, but how can they allow officers to have little or no evidence before busting into people’s homes?

If you are arrested in Fort Lauderdale or elsewhere in South Florida, contact Leifert & Leifert at 954-523-9600 or 561-988-8000 for a free consultation.

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Additional Resources:

Supreme Court to rule on drug-sniffing dog case, by David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times

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