Supreme Court Lets Dog Sniffing Stand

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday declined to consider whether police may conduct drug dog searches outside people’s homes without probable cause.

High court sticks to ruling on dogs’ sniffing for drugs (AP)

The Supreme Court yesterday declined to consider whether police can have drug dogs sniff outside people’s homes without any specific suspicion of illegal activity. Justices let stand a lower-court ruling that allowed the dog sniff, rejecting an appeal from a Houston man who said it was an improper police “search” that violated his Fourth Amendment right against arbitrary searches.


David Gregory Smith challenged his Texas conviction for drug possession based on evidence obtained after a police dog sniffed outside his garage and alerted authorities to possible drugs inside. After the dog’s alert, police obtained a search warrant and found methamphetamine in his bedroom, far from the garage. “The use of a drug-sniffing dog at the entrance of a private home to detect the contents of the dwelling strips the citizenry of the most basic boundary of personal privacy by gathering invisible information coming from the interior of the home,” the petition states.

A Texas state court ruled last year that the dog sniff outside his garage was not intrusive enough to invoke constitutional protection. It also said police did not unlawfully trespass because the garage was along a sidewalk that visitors must walk to reach the front door.

Given that the use of trained police dogs for this purpose is obviously a “search,” this line of reasoning is laughable. The 4th Amendment has long been all but a dead letter, though, with the list of exceptions to the explicit guarantee that there be no searches without a warrant so long that there are virutally no cases when a warrant is actually required.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jay says:

    Wow. That is just so wrong. I can’t believe they ruled that way!

    But then, maybe I ought to be unsurprised.

  2. Brian J. says:

    You have nothing to fear unless you do something wrong.

    Or unless a dog looks at you, your car, your home, or in your direction oddly.

  3. Rodney Dill says:

    “I sniffed, but I did not inhale”
    — Bill Clinton

  4. Kent says:

    I share the concern over this highly questionable ruling. But I have to quibble with your statement that the Fourth Amendment gives an “explicit guarantee that there be no searches without a warrant.” What the Fourth Amendement gives is a prohibition against unreasonable searches, followed by conditions under which a warrant may be issued — the warrant being a court ruling, before the fact, that a search is presumptively reasonable.

    Some wiggle room is needed. The exceptions site you link points out that, under the common law, a police officer has the authority to arrest a person who commits a crime in his presence, without an arrest warrant — a power I want him to have. It follows that he should be able to search the person for weapons, or for evidence supporting the police officer’s affadavit.

    The problem is that the courts cannot seem to distinguish between necessary wiggle room and leaving the gate wide open. Such distinctions require intelligence and good judgement. A country whose citizens actually pay to see Martin Sheen act can’t be expected to have much intelligence or good judgement.

    (Couldn’t resist that last cheap shot.)

  5. whatever says:

    I don’t get your reasoning. Is a policeman using his eyes doing a “search” also? Are some senses not a search and others are? Or is this a person/animal thing? What if a cop smells smells something? Is that okay?

    I think most people realize a “search” is something active – people coming in and tearing up your house – not something passive from the senses.

    Your response is bit over-the-top.

  6. LJD says:

    It’s hard to compare the cop smelling somthing and the dog…. We all know the dog’s heightened senses. I guess it would be o.k. for the cops to use x-rays as well…

    Where we’re headed is neighborhood patrols, walking around sniffing for drugs, ammunition, whatever. Meanwhile children are abducted, sexually abused, spouses beaten, personal property stolen. How do you “sniff” for those things?

    You may not even think you’re doing anything wrong. Tell it to a judge. Just make sure you don’t have those poppy seeds on your bagel.

  7. kristian says:

    I have to say this just blows my mind..
    I have sat and watched this play out for five yes five years.The man in prison for 37 years is my boyfriend.I’m on 10 years of probation and he sits for THIRTYSEVEN YEARS.wHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON HERE!!!???I have to say I agree with the comment made in regards to….Gee sexual abuse,
    Murder!!It just makes me sick..