Supreme Court considers role of drug-sniffing dogs in criminal cases

Law Office of Philip R. Nathe

In late October, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in two separate cases related to drug-sniffing dogs. If the Justices’ immediate responses to oral arguments are clear indications of how these cases will be handled, it seems that future cases involving potential drug charges may legally include drug-sniffing evidence obtained near personal residences but not necessarily evidence obtained near motor vehicles.

In the first case before the Court, a dog detected the scent of marijuana outside a personal residence and a warrant was obtained based on this detection. A growing operation was uncovered when law enforcement entered the home. The Justices appeared open to the idea that drug-sniffing dogs could legally seek scents around personal residences, but likely not without probable cause.

Given the Court’s historical concern for the protection of privacy in personal residences, the Justices’ interest in the probable cause issue is not surprising. However, some of the more conservative Justices seemed sympathetic to the idea that perhaps probable cause was not necessary for law enforcement and their drug detection dogs to approach the outside of a home for nearly any reason.

In the second case before the Court, law enforcement had led a drug-sniffing dog to a vehicle which had been pulled over. The dog then detected chemicals used in the production of methamphetamines. The core argument in this case was whether or not dogs are particularly reliable in sniffing out these kinds of drugs in this kind of environment. This canine credential issue is critical to the admissibility of evidence submitted in subsequent criminal cases.

The outcome of both of these cases will help to determine when and how drug-sniffing dogs may be used in future cases involving drug allegations. Given the critical nature of the evidence that these dogs often help to lead law enforcement to, these cases will undoubtedly be closely watched.

Source: New York Times, “Drug-Sniffing Dogs Have Their Day in Court as Justices Hear 2 Arguments,” Adam Liptak, Oct. 31, 2012

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Supreme Court considers role of drug-sniffing dogs in criminal cases