Criminal law is quite complex, to say the least. There are state and federal laws that govern how law enforcement can act. Then, there are court rulings that apply to these laws. This is especially true when it comes to searches and seizures of private property. There are many procedures that must be followed for the search to be considered legal and constitutional. When the police use dogs to search for drugs, the same is true. The legality of the search depends on many different factors, from federal and state law to the Constitution.
Using drug dogs at a traffic stop
Drug dogs have been used to search for illegal substances for many years. In the U.S., the military police relied on drug dogs during the Vietnam War to reduce drug smuggling into the States. Today, many local law enforcement agencies use drug dogs at traffic stops to sniff for evidence of illegal substances. The most prominent case, Illinois v. Caballes, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Roy Caballes had been pulled over for speeding, but drug dogs found evidence of marijuana in his car. Caballes challenged the search, and the Illinois Supreme Court reversed his conviction based on the illegality of the search. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment is not implicated in this situation. If the police use a drug dog during a legal traffic stop, generally, it is permitted. However, there are some limitations on this ruling.
Drug dogs searching your home or private property
A Miami, FL, resident challenged the use of a drug dog during a police search of his home. The police used drug dogs to determine if drugs were present, then used that evidence to obtain a search warrant. The homeowner argued that this was an illegal search, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed. The homeowner was not questioning the use of dogs to search for drugs, but the legality of the search as it applied to the Fourth Amendment. Generally, the police need a warrant to use drug-sniffing dogs when searching your private residence and property.
Know your legal rights
The Fourth Amendment must be applied to every search and seizure action and law. Because the police have different methods today than when the Fourth Amendment was originally written, it is important to make sure that a search conducted on your property is legal by today's standards. You should always consult an experienced attorney to evaluate your case before going before a judge.