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The Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that could strike a blow to law enforcement agencies that rely heavily on drug-sniffing dogs for evidence in cases of drug charges. The court held 5-4 that an officer could not use a drug dog to sniff around the outside of a house where they suspect illegal activity.

The court held that a dog's sniff constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. In order to perform a search legally, officers must establish reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed and get a search warrant.

In their decision the justices held that an officer outside a person's house who does not have a search warrant is entitled to do as much as any other citizen. In most cases, that involves walking up and knocking on the door but nothing more. The court maintained that a person has a higher expectation of privacy in his or her home than in other places.

For example, the Supreme Court recently ruled in another case surrounding drug dogs. They held that a dog's sniff could be used to gather evidence in a person's stopped vehicle. The difference between these two decisions shows that the court values people's privacy in their homes.

However, their justification for this decision hinged more on property rights than on privacy law. It is possible that future cases could help further clarify what is acceptable conduct by police officers and illuminate the court's position on privacy in cases of drug charges with a questionable search.

Source: The FindLaw Blotter, "Drug Dogs Can't Sniff Homes Without Warrant," Andrew Lu, March 27, 2013

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