Rutherford Institute Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Declare Unconstitutional the Use of Drug-Sniffing Dogs by Police to Carry Out Warrantless Searches PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Crime/Courts
Written by The Rutherford Institute   
Tuesday, 03 July 2012 09:04

WASHINGTON, DC — Insisting that the use of drug-sniffing dogs by police to carry out warrantless searches of private homes favors canine sensibilities over citizens’ privacy rights, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the practice unconstitutional in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. In filing an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Florida v. Jardines, Institute attorneys cite mounting empirical evidence that narcotics detection dogs are unreliable and inaccurate. Institute attorneys also point out that the amount of time it takes for the dogs to carry out a detection sniff on the perimeter of a private residence constitutes a trespass under Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.

The Rutherford Institute’s brief in Florida v. Jardines is available at

“The specter of a police dog handler team with supporting armed backup at the front door of a private residence is a chilling scenario indicative of the entrenchment of a growing police state,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “If this Court permits warrantless dog sniffs of citizens’ homes, it will unleash an Orwellian nightmare of intimidation, leaving no one safe from the prying sniffs of the American Police State.”

The case arose out of an incident that took place in November 2006, when Miami police responded to an “anonymous” tip that marijuana was being grown at the residence of Joelis Jardines. After police surveillance of the Jardines home failed to reveal any incriminating evidence, the police brought in a drug-sniffing dog and handler to inspect the property at 7:30 a.m. The police handler walked the dog up to the front door on a leash and the dog allegedly “alerted” to the scent of contraband, which was reported to the investigating police who also approached the door and allegedly smelled marijuana. Using this information, the police obtained a warrant to search the Jardines residence, resulting in the seizure of marijuana plants. In court, Jardines’ lawyer moved to suppress the evidence obtained under the warrant, insisting that the warrant itself was invalid because of its reliance on the alert by the drug-sniffing dog. On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the use of detection dogs at private residences raises significant privacy concerns. The U.S. Supreme Court, having ruled in previous cases that dog sniffs do not constitute “searches” for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, agreed to review the state court decision. In weighing in on the matter, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute argued against the reliance on drug-sniffing dogs as the basis for search warrants, pointing out that both anecdotal evidence and research show that dogs frequently signal false alerts and show sensitivity to handler bias. Institute attorneys also noted that the mere presence of the dogs on private property and the amount of time it takes for the dogs to alert to any alleged contraband constitute an illegal trespass. A better, more constitutional, alternative, as the Institute’s brief makes clear, would be for police to obtain a search warrant prior to introducing dogs onto the scene for a perimeter sniff.