Police departments in New York and around the country rely on K-9 units to detect firearms, explosives and illegal drugs during searches, and officers may also call on highly-trained dogs to conduct what are known as air sniffs around vehicles that have been pulled over. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that air sniffs do not violate the Fourth Amendment, but the scope of that ruling may soon be called into question. That is because the nation’s highest court has been asked to rule in a case involving an enthusiastic K-9 that jumped up and touched a suspect’s vehicle.
Routine traffic stop
The case involves an Idaho man who was pulled over in 2019 after a Mountain Home Police Department officer allegedly observed his car making an illegal turn. A police dog named Nero was quickly dispatched to the scene to sniff the air around the man’s vehicle. While conducting the air sniff, the dog is said to have jumped up and placed its front paws on one of the car’s doors. Officers discovered a plastic bag containing methamphetamine residue and a pill bottle during a subsequent search of the car, which gave them the probable cause they needed to obtain a search warrant.
Felony drug possession
The man was charged with felony narcotics possession after police discovered additional drugs in his motel room. His criminal defense attorney claimed that the police dog violated the man’s Fourth Amendment rights when it jumped up and touched his car, and the Idaho Supreme Court agreed. The nation’s highest court has yet to announced whether it will review the case.
The Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, but it is left up to the courts to determine what is and what is not reasonable. When conflicting rulings create a legal gray area, the U.S. Supreme Court often rules to provide clarity. This is what many observers believe will happen in this case.