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Cops must get warrant before doing dog sniff outside home: SCOTUS

When police officers in Lansing wish to search somebody's home for evidence of drug possession or trafficking, they generally must first ask the court for a search warrant to authorize them to enter the home. This rule is embedded in the Fourth Amendment and is also a requirement under Michigan law. To obtain a warrant, the officers must show the judge that there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been or is being committed inside the house.

Though this is a routine process, law enforcement officials must present a certain level of evidence to obtain a search warrant. When there is insufficient evidence that someone is engaged in drug crimes, police sometimes try to conduct a search without a warrant. The law provides certain exceptions to the law, such as someone at the home granting permission for police to enter. But according to the U.S. Supreme Court, having a police dog smell for drugs outside a home's door is not among those exceptions.

The Court ruled by a 5-4 vote on March 26 that a police search based on a police dog's drug sniff violated the homeowner's Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia noted that the law includes the immediate surroundings of a house along with its interior within the amendment. In other words, police cannot search a house's exterior or try to detect what is going on inside without a search warrant. Any evidence gathered from a warrantless dog sniff would therefore be unconstitutional and inadmissible in court.

This ruling will likely affect how police in Michigan use their drug-detecting animals to conduct house searches. People who are arrested on drug charges as a result of a dog sniff of their home may potentially be able to challenge the evidence against them if the police did not obtain a warrant before the sniff.

Source: National Public Radio, "Drug-Sniffing Dog Case Fails Supreme Court's Smell Test," Randy Lilleston, March 26, 2013

· To learn more about drug charges in Lansing, please visit our drug charges page.

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