Supreme Court to Decide Whether Police Dog Sniffs Pass the Fourth Amendment “Smell Test”


By: Brian Dempsey
This past week, the United States Supreme Court heard two cases which are expected to clarify the Fourth Amendment limitations on police officers’ use of drug-sniffing dogs.
In the first case, Florida v. Jardines, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide whether a dog sniff at the front door of a suspected marijuana grow house by a trained narcotics detection dog is a search requiring probable cause and a warrant.  In the second case, Florida v. Harris, the issue is whether an “alert” by a well-trained detection dog establishes probable cause for the search of the interior of a vehicle for further evidence of illegal drugs.
In some general law enforcement contexts, a canine drug sniff has been held not to be a search which requires Fourth Amendment scrutiny.  In Jardines, however, the Court will – for the first time – consider whether the Fourth Amendment “reasonableness” standard applies when the search is conducted outside a private home.  This is an important factor in light of the Court’s recognition in prior cases that the area immediately outside a home is subject to the same Fourth Amendment privacy protections which apply to the interior of the residence.  In contrast, the Court has recognized a lesser degree of privacy expectations in a vehicle which is operated on public roads, as was the case in Harris.
The Court’s upcoming opinions in these cases will provide welcome guidance regarding the constitutional limitations of searches conducted by narcotics detection dogs.  In the meantime, a plain-language discussion of the issues can be found here.
For more commentary, analysis, and links to the oral argument transcripts and briefs in both cases, see these websites:
SCOTUS Blog – Florida v. Jardines
SCOTUS Blog – Florida v. Harris
ABA Journal – “Chemerinsky: The Fourth Amendment Goes to the Dogs”
The Volokh Conspiracy – “A Few Thoughts the Dog Sniff Cases: Florida v. Jardines and Florida v. Harris”