Supreme Court to examine actions of police dogsTuesday, October 23, 2012 at 7:51 pm by Yiqian Wang
On October 31st, the Supreme Court will be examining the constitutionality of actions conducted by police sniffer dogs, which could have numerous repercussions for protections enumerated by the fourth amendment. The high court will examine dual cases originating from Florida, which will scrutinize the reliability of narcotics detection dogs, and the alerts of illegal contraband by such dogs.
The first of these cases, Florida v. Harris will examine whether the use of a narcotics dog to sniff near the suspect’s front porch, in order to determine if marijuana is contained within the home, constitutes an unreasonable search under the fourth amendment. Correspondingly, Florida v. Jardines will examine if a lower court decision, in which an alert by a narcotics detection dog was ruled to be insufficient in establishing probable cause, is contrary to established precedent concerning search and seizure.
The reliability of narcotics detection dogs have previously been called into question, exemplified by former Justice David Souter’s remark that the infallible dog is a concept confined only to the realm of legal fiction. Professor Jeffrey Meyers of the Quinnipiac University School of Law warns that these cases could severely curtail fourth amendment protections, and may become dangerous precedents for future search and seizure cases. Professor Meyer states that:
If the court rules for the government in the home-sniff case, it is hard to see why the police could not station drug-sniffing dogs outside the entrances to every school, supermarket and movie theater as a routine form of drug interdiction. Dog sniffs would never involve a privacy intrusion and therefore would not trigger the requirement that the police obtain a warrant or have individual suspicion.
Moreover, today’s dogs will give way to tomorrow’s high-tech contraband-scanning devices that, under the reasoning pressed in the dog cases, would free the government to conduct routine scans of people’s homes or their bodies for all manner of contraband.
All methods of searches hold a measurable probability of error, and narcotics detection dogs are no exception. Police dogs are susceptible to mistakes, as an alert does not necessarily indicate illegal contraband, and could be caused by any number of external influences that hindered the ability of the detection dog in accurately determining the presence of illicit substances. Such police dog actions may or may not be considered excessively intrusive, and it is now up to the Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of such actions.