Dog alerts: privacy of the home vs. privacy of a vehicle

Many criminal cases concern the issue of privacy. If investigative authorities overstep privacy boundaries, this may lead to a suppression of evidence that could be critical to a case. What is a reasonable person's expectation of privacy? To what level and through what means may police and authorities breach this expectation? Recent Florida cases have uncovered new information regarding dog sniffs or dog alerts and how these means may be incorporated into a probable cause determination within an investigation.

In March 2013, the Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 vote that the use of trained police dogs to investigate around a home and its immediate surroundings is unconstitutional. According to the Court, employing a dog constitutes a search within the ambit of the Fourth Amendment, and this requires a warrant.

Facts Of The case

The Court's recent decision upheld a 2011 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court, which suppressed evidence uncovered at a suspect's home through the use of a Labrador retriever. In this case, the police dog handler let the dog smell around the base of the front door of the suspect's home after receiving an anonymous tip about marijuana growing inside. Once the dog sat down and alerted something was wrong, the police searched inside the defendant's home. The investigation led to the discovery of 25 pounds of marijuana and the man's arrest.

According to the Court, a police officer may knock on the door of a suspect's home. However, introducing a police dog to investigate the surrounding area of a residence for the purpose of discovering criminal evidence is not allowed. According to Justice Scalia's majority opinion, "the home is first among equals." In other words, the home has the greatest level of protection under the Fourth Amendment.

Dog sniffs And vehicles

Ironically, this is not the Supreme Court's first brush with the topic in this term. Not too long ago, another Florida-rooted case concerned dog sniff alerts and privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment. Here, the Court allowed a search of a suspect's pickup truck, ruling that the handler of a dog, which alerted to the presence of drug ingredients inside the vehicle, could reasonably believe that the dog was reliable.

Ultimately, the Court has laid a distinction between the expectations of privacy in one's home in comparison to one's vehicle. It appears from the most recent Florida case that privacy is protected on a greater level at the home. In turn, trained police dogs may not be used in close proximity to the home for the purpose of obtaining probable cause.

The cases shed light on the importance of procedure in criminal cases. Much of the law is dependent on the protections permitted under the constitution. To ensure that your rights have been honored, retain the assistance of a qualified defense attorney in your area.