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United States Supreme Court rules search based on drug dog sniff was unconstitutional

The way in which police proceed in gathering information for a criminal investigation is a very important one. It is an issue that comes up in many criminal defense cases involving drug charges, and can dramatically shape the outcome of such cases.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that police may not bring drug-sniffing police dogs onto a suspect's property to look for evidence without first obtaining a warrant for a search. The decision, it has been pointed out, could limit how investigators use dogs to search our evidence in drug cases, and in other cases as well.

The court reportedly delivered a split decision on the matter, choosing to uphold a Florida Supreme Court's ruling that threw out evidence seized in the search of a Miami-area home. That search had been based on an alert by a drug dog from outside the closed front door. The search took place after surveillance had been set up outside the suspect's home in response to an anonymous tip that it may contain a marijuana growing operation.

The dog's alert became the basis to obtain a search warrant from a judge, and incriminating evidence was indeed found in the home. The man was subsequently charged with marijuana trafficking and grand theft for stealing electricity needed for the operation. He pleaded not guilty, however, on the basis that the search was an unconstitutional intrusion into the privacy of his home. The trial judge agreed and threw the evidence out.

And the nation's highest court agreed. In our next post, we'll take a little closer look at the high court's rationale in this case.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times, "Court: Drug dog sniff is unconstitutional search," Jesse J Holland, March 26, 2013.

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