Divided Supreme Court Hinders Cops’ Use of Drug-Sniffing Dogs
A divided Supreme Court on Tuesday gave notice to the nation’s law enforcement officials that they generally need search warrants to employ drug-sniffing dogs outside a home to detect whether drugs are inside.
The case decided 5-4 involving a suspected Florida drug dealer limited the government’s ability to intrude into the home and was a blow to police. Law enforcement officials told the justices that the practice was “widely used,” and wanted the high court to sanction warrantless dog-sniff searches as the high court has for airport luggage or vehicles stopped during routine traffic stops.
A private residence, and the “curtilage” surrounding it, is another story and is protected by “ancient and durable roots,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority.
“But when it comes to the Fourth Amendment, the home is first among equals. At the Amendment’s ‘very core’ stands ‘the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion,’” Scalia wrote, (.pdf) quoting a 1961 high court decision. “This right would be of little practical value if the State’s agents could stand in a home’s porch or side garden and trawl for evidence with impunity; the right to retreat would be significantly diminished if the police could enter a man’s property to observe his repose from just outside the front window.”