Is a “Dog Sniff” Considered a Search?

The Florida Supreme Court recently held that a warrantless search involving a drug-sniffing dog at the front door of a house is unconstitutional as a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The State of Florida has appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The defendant in the case was arrested on marijuana drug charges after marijuana plants were discovered in his home.

Your Home is Your Castle

The Fourth Amendment protects us all from unreasonable searches within our homes. The Florida Supreme Court notes that the concept of the home as a place with special Fourth Amendment protections dates to an English case in 1604 that first described a man's home as "his castle."

The United States Supreme Court states it succinctly: "wherever an individual may harbor a reasonable 'expectation of privacy,' he is entitled to be free from unreasonable government intrusion."

Drug-Sniffing Dogs Are Routinely Used by Law Enforcement

Drug-sniffing dogs have been permitted to search vehicles, luggage and packages in transit without law enforcement being required to seek a search warrant. A positive dog sniff around a car for instance can provide a basis for a DuPage County possession of marijuana charge.

The Florida court, however, found a notable difference between vehicle and luggage searches and the search of a private home. The court noted that the searches of a vehicle or luggage are minimally invasive and performed upon objects that "warrant no special protection under the Fourth Amendment."

Potential For Abuse

The Florida Supreme Court sees the danger as this: if officers are permitted to use a dog "sniff test" at a private home without a warrant, there is no legal mechanism to stop them from "applying the procedure in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner, or based on whim and fancy, at the home of any citizen." The worry is that potential "fishing expeditions" by police may occur.

The U.S. Supreme Court will probably hear the case this year. Currently, there is a split between various state court rulings.

The potential consequences of a marijuana conviction in Illinois can include jail time, fines, loss of property through forfeiture and court ordered treatment. In addition, a conviction may follow you and make it difficult to rent an apartment or get a new job. If you have been charged with a marijuana crime, consult an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney to discuss your options.