The following is an excerpt from Emily Bazelon | October 24, 2012 | Slate.com |
When I see a police dog inside a train station or at a public gathering, I feel safer. I figure it is there to protect us from explosives, and if it sniffs out drugs along the way, well, that’s against the law, too.
But what if it turns out that the dogs aren’t all that good at the job the police are giving them? If that’s the case, should we think differently about when the police should use dogs to sniff us and our belongings, especially in the privacy of the home?
That’s the question in two cases being argued before the Supreme Court next week. In the first case, Florida v. Jardines, the Miami police used a trained detection dog named Franky to check for drugs at the home of Joelis Jardines after getting a Crime Stopper tip. Led onto the porch, Franky sat down by the front door, his sign for alerting his handler that something smelled funny. The police got a search warrant and found a pot-growing business inside the house. In the second case, Florida v. Harris, a sheriff’s deputy pulled over Clayton Harris because the truck he was driving had an expired license plate. Harris was shaking and breathing fast, so the deputy asked for permission to search his truck. When Harris said no, the deputy brought his trained dog, Aldo, over to the truck, and Aldo alerted him to a smell on one of the door handles. With that as his basis for a search, the deputy looked inside the truck and found ingredients for making methamphetamine. Both Jardines and Harris challenged the searches as violations of their Fourth Amendment rights. They argue that the police should have gotten a warrant before they deployed Franky and Aldo.
Back in 1983, however, the Supreme Court said that a dog sniff isn’t a search under the Fourth Amendment, which means the police don’t need a warrant. The idea was that dogs are sui generis as a detection method because the only information they can provide is the presence or absence of drugs. Since nothing else is revealed, there’s no privacy at stake. Key to the court’s reasoning was “the assumption that sniffing dogs do not err.”
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