Most people understand that police need a warrant or what’s called “exigent circumstances” to conduct a search on private property. But, what constitutes a search? Obviously, the police coming into your home uninvited and rummaging around is a search, to put it mildly. Other searches, however, are a little less clear cut.
Several courts across the nation have had to determine whether or not the sniff of a drug dog constitutes a search, worthy of the same standard as your typical police search.
In Florida, the high court of that state determined a police dog being able to “hit” on marijuana outside of a closed door to a home did constitute an illegal search, when no warrant was present. Now, those in the legal community are waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the case later this month.
The Florida case involves a chocolate lab named Franky, who has since retired from police work. On December 5, 2006, Miami-Dade police along with DEA agents were watching a home that was suspected to contain a marijuana growing operation. The home was only under surveillance and no warrants had been issued.
Franky and his handler arrived and walked up to the house where Franky alerted his handler to the possible marijuana inside. This was used as evidence to get a search warrant. The home was searched and 179 plants were ultimately discovered. The resident was charged with trafficking, pled not guilty and his lawyer challenged the search.
The trial judge agreed that Franky’s nose constituted a search, invalidating the warrant and making the evidence (pot plants) inadmissible. An appeals court judge ruled to the contrary. But the state supreme court agreed with the trial judge, and that is where the case stands.
While the Supreme Court has allowed warrantless drug sniffs in some cases, these cases never involved a private residence—something that has historically been afforded more privacy than a car or luggage, for example.
The Court will decide by the end of this month whether or not to hear the case.
Many criminal cases are ultimately decided by the legitimacy of the evidence. Properly collected evidence can be the nail in the coffin, so to speak. Whereas, evidence collection that infringes upon someone’s rights can damage the case beyond repair, for prosecutors.
If you are facing drug charges, you likely underwent a search at some point. It’s the job of your attorney to ensure this search was conducted within the parameters of your constitutional rights. If it was not, they can motion the court to suppress the evidence and your case could ultimately be thrown out of court.
Let us put you in touch with a local criminal defense lawyer today, someone who can look at your case and determine what options are available for your defense.