North Texas Daily

Civil liberties passing sniff test

Civil liberties passing sniff test

March 27
22:10 2013

The Supreme Court made a pretty significant ruling this week. No, it wasn’t about gay marriage. They haven’t decided anything on that yet.

The court has however set a different precedent: Bringing drug-sniffing dogs to a property without a warrant constitutes an unlawful search, violating the Fourth Amendment.

Basically, what happened was Miami police received an anonymous tip that a home was being used to grow marijuana.

Police arrived with a drug-sniffing dog, who indicated there were drugs in the house, but only did so once he was right next to the front door. Based on this indication, the police got a search warrant.

But things got a lot more complicated once the suspect was taken to trial, when the evidence gained in the search was thrown out because police had conducted a Fourth Amendment-level search without a warrant using the dog’s sniffing power.

The idea behind the court’s ruling is that a person should be able to not be searched on their property. The property factor distinguishes this from other canine cases that have been ruled constitutional.

The Fourth Amendment protects us, our houses and our things from unreasonable search unless there is probable cause.

A drug dog search is not an unreasonable search when they are searching luggage and cars, but when they sniff your property, it’s suddenly an invasion of privacy and you need probable cause to do that. That being said, a drug dog’s alert is sufficient evidence of probable cause.

So a drug dog can establish probable cause for search and seizure, but when it comes to property, you need probable cause to use it because property is protected under the Fourth Amendment.

But you don’t need probable cause to use it on luggage and cars, despite personal effects being protected under the same amendment.

Make sense?

The Supreme Court has really contradicted itself here, and in this case that’s a very good thing.

A domestic dog’s sense of smell is basically localized omniscience. According to a “Nova” article on the topic, expanding a human’s olfactory capacity to that of a dog would be like expanding our vision from three or four miles to 3,000 miles. If a dog could speak, they’d be able to tell you how much of a given substance is present in whatever they happen to be sniffing and exactly where it is.

For some reason, this incredible and inherent insight isn’t thought of as an “unreasonable search,” but the fact of the matter is that police dogs put citizens completely at the mercy of overbearing law enforcement. The Fourth Amendment is designed to prevent that.

Hopefully, the Supreme Court is beginning to realize that giving police that kind of power is something they’re supposed to be opposed to.

Joshua Knopp is a pre-journalism sophomore. He can be reached at

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