Photo: Flickr/West Midlands Police
On Oct. 31, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases from Florida about drug-sniffing dogs that will either affirm or weaken the constitutional privacy rights of Americans.Rulings favourable to the government would allow law enforcement to conduct warrantless searches and surveillance on an even more routine basis.
The first case will ask the court to clarify how accurate a drug dog must be to establish probable cause for the search of a vehicle.
The second case asks if police may take a drug dog to the front porch of a home to sniff for evidence of marijuana inside.
The Fourth Amendment guarantees freedom from government intrusion into individual privacy. It protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures” and requires police to justify a search with probable cause or a warrant.
In both cases the government argues that the dog is “alerted” only by illegal contraband so it doesn’t count as a search, visiting Yale Law School professor Jeffrey A. Meyer writes in The New York Times.
But dogs make mistakes, Meyer points out, so it’s dangerous to base a constitutional protection on a dog’s nose rather than on the privacy of the space that’s being invaded.
The Fourth Amendment’s protections are strongest in the home—Meyer notes the Supreme Court once said that “every man’s house is his castle” and even the “poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all forces of [government].”
Furthermore allowing a superior instrument like a drug-sniffing dog or a high-tech scanning device to “sense” something from the outside would “free the government to conduct routine scans of people’s homes or their bodies,” according to Meyer.
Meyer concludes that the right choice for the court will be “to affirm our rights in our homes and our persons to be free, in the absence of emergency circumstances, from the warrantless use of dogs and sense-enhancing technology.”
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