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Supreme Court: Drug Dogs Need Warrant to Sniff Suspect's Home

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By Andrew Lu on March 27, 2013 11:51 AM

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police may not use drug dogs to sniff outside a suspect's home without a warrant.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that the use of drug sniffing dogs to investigate a home and its immediate surroundings constituted a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, reports Reuters.

Therefore, police need probable cause and a search warrant to engage in such searches.

The Court generally limited the actions of a police officer at someone's home to approaching a home and knocking, if not armed with a warrant. Justices reasoned that any ordinary citizen may do this, so police officers should be allowed to do it too.

However, using drug-sniffing dogs outside the home to look for incriminating evidence was another story.

In the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, "the home is first among equals," writes Reuters.

The decision stemmed from a 2011 Florida case where police uncovered illegal drugs at a suspect's home. Police had received a tip that the resident was growing drugs inside the home, and a drug-sniffing dog confirmed the tip to an investigating officer.

After the dog's alert, the police officer later obtained a search warrant and raided the residence. The investigation did turn up illegal drugs.

However, the suspect's lawyer argued officers should have obtained a warrant first, before using the drug sniffing dog, and not after the dog alerted police to the presence of drugs. As a result, the Florida Supreme Court suppressed the drug evidence that was found in the search, reports Reuters.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld that decision.

This is the Court's second ruling this term regarding drug-sniffing dogs. In the earlier case, the court upheld the use of a drug-sniffing dog during a traffic stop. The obvious difference in the two cases being where the search occurred: outside someone's home or on a public roadway.

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