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Last week we introduced two cases recently heard by the United States Supreme Court. The court has taken up several issues surrounding the use of drug-sniffing dogs in arrests and criminal investigations that could have lasting effects on Americans' due process rights and criminal defense.

The Supreme Court essentially must decide two things: whether a dog's sniff outside a home constitutes a "search" under the Fourth Amendment and whether standards should exist for determining the reliability of any given dog for the purposes of justifying a search. However, these two seemingly simple questions must be considered in the context of criminal defense and how they could interact with existing policy.

For example, in 1983 the Court found that allowing a drug dog to sniff a piece of luggage at an airport was not a "search" under the Fourth Amendment. As a result, police officers could allow dogs to sniff luggage without establishing probable cause or getting a warrant. A 2005 cases extended that definition to automobiles as well.

In 2006 the Court also ruled that it was reasonable to use SWAT teams to serve search warrants for low-level drug offenses. Police officers in that case had seized evidence after breaking into a house to serve a warrant, failing to knock and announce themselves.

Each of these decisions may seem small on its own, but when applied to real cases and stretched to their limits they gradually but surely begin to erode the constitutional rights of defendants in drug-related cases. If the Court finds that a sniff outside a door creates probable cause, police officers could realistically use SWAT-style tactics to break into a house based only on the hunch of an unreliable dog and its handler.

If you are facing charges or have been accused of a drug-related criminal offense, seek help from an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Prosecutors and investigators often take their time to build a case so you should act before it becomes urgent. An attorney can help your build a defense and seek the best possible outcome in your case while ensuring that your constitutional rights are protected in the criminal justice system.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Supreme Court Considers Two Drug Dog Cases," Radley Balko, Nov. 2, 2012

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