The Supreme Court of the United States, or SCOTUS, recently issued holdings on two dog sniffing cases. The cases took two different situations into consideration. The first, Florida v. Harris, considered whether a drug-sniffing dog can be used to conduct a search on a vehicle while the second, Florida v. Jardines, answered whether a dog could be used to search the area immediately surrounding a person's home.
Both drug cases could impact how drug laws are applied in Michigan.
SCOTUS ruled first on Florida v. Harris. In this case, a man was pulled over because he had an expired license. During the stop, the officer noticed the man had an open container of beer in the front cup holder. He asked for permission to search the vehicle and was denied.
In order to complete a more thorough search without permission, an officer must have probable cause to believe that a search will result in evidence of criminal activity. The officer, part of the canine unit, retrieved his narcotics dog, Aldo. Aldo performed a "free air sniff" search of the vehicle and alerted to the presence of drugs near the driver's front door. Based on the dog's alert, the officer argued he had sufficient cause to search the entire vehicle.
During the search, the officer found materials used in the production of methamphetamine. The driver argued the dog's alert did not provide probable cause to support the search. As a result, the search was a violation of his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures and any evidence that was found should be thrown out.
The court disagreed. Instead, they stated as long as the narcotic dog had sufficient training or certification an alert was enough to provide cause for a more thorough search.
The second case, Florida v. Jardines, involved a crime stoppers tip that homeowners were growing marijuana. Based on this tip, an officer brought a drug-sniffing dog to conduct a sniff search of the home's curtilage, or the area immediately surrounding the home. In this case, the officer conducted the search on the home's front porch.
During the search, the dog alerted to the presence of drugs. Based on this alert, a warrant was issued and the officers searched the home. The search resulted in the finding of marijuana. The homeowners argued that the use of a drug-sniffing dog on the front porch was a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. SCOTUS agreed.
The justices stated that a home's curtilage falls within the scope of protections encompassed in the Fourth Amendment. As a result, the search was illegal and the evidence was not allowed in court.
Rulings issued by SCOTUS are observed throughout the country. As a result, these holdings are now the law in Michigan.
Navigating the intricacies of these laws can be difficult. If you or a loved one is charged with possession, distribution, trafficking or other drug crimes in Michigan, it is important to contact an experienced drug charges lawyer to discuss your situation and better ensure your legal rights are protected.