A Supreme Court ruling this week limits the use of police drug-sniffing dogs outside of a suspect's home.
In a 5-4 decision, justices held that police cannot use drug-sniffing dogs outside of a home to detect illegal drugs inside, unless officers have a warrant, reports Reuters.
The court determined that this use of drug-sniffing dogs constituted a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. As a result, a warrant is required to perform the search.
Setting the limits for what a police officer may do without a warrant, the Court said that a police officer may approach a home and knock on the door. The court reasoned that this is what any private citizen may do, writes Reuters.
But while an officer may knock on a door, the Court found that using a trained drug-sniffing dog to explore the outside of the home in hopes of finding incriminating evidence was another matter. Basically, the court found that individuals have a strong right of privacy where they live, and police cannot unleash the hounds to find evidence unless there is a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed or will be committed.
The decision stemmed from a Florida case in which a police dog alerted officers to illegal drugs while outside of a suspect's home. The police officer in that case received a tip that the resident was growing marijuana, but did not have a warrant to conduct the search. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the illegal drugs uncovered could not be used as evidence.
Last month, in another Florida case, the Supreme Court allowed evidence that was discovered through a drug-sniffing dog. In that case, the police dog sniffed around a car that was stopped. The distinction between the two cases may be where the search was conducted: at someone's home or a car stopped on the street.