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Supreme Court kennels some unwarranted drug-sniffing dog use

Ensuring the sanctity of one's home and one's privacy inside the walls of that home are values that are at the root of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Whether one lives in Virginia Beach or anywhere else in the country, that tenet against illegal searches and seizures by police applies.

Unless authorities have exigent circumstances might indicate the need for police to take action to protect a person, they must obtain a warrant before they start looking for evidence. And recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that that restriction applies to the use of drug-sniffing police dogs on private property.

The decision reflects a limit on investigative authority that could affect many drug charge cases. It could also mean that the use of dogs in unwarranted searches for explosives or other materials that are often detected by the use of canines.

The 5-4 ruling comes in a 2006 case out of Florida in which police entered the premises of a man suspected in a drug investigation. The search was triggered when a police dog at the front door alerted his handler to the possible presence of marijuana inside. Based on the alert, police arrested the man on suspicion of drug trafficking and seized nearly 180 marijuana plants.

The suspect was brought up on drug and other charges and pleaded not guilty. As part of his defense, the man's attorney argued that the dog's presence represented an unconstitutional intrusion. The trial court judge agreed and rejected the evidence obtained by the search -- a ruling that was ultimately upheld by the Florida and U.S. Supreme Courts.

Considering the broad use of dogs by authorities in many areas of enforcement, this decision represents a development that all experienced criminal defense attorneys in Virginia Beach will be studying to determine how it could and should be applied in any given case.

Source: WAVY-TV, "Court: Drug dog sniff is unconstitutional search," The Associated Press, March 26, 2013

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