When I last wrote about the constitutionality of K-9 Sniffs (Constitutionality of K-9 Sniffs), the US Supreme Court had not yet handed down a decision in Florida v. Jardines. In Jardines, the Court examined only whether a K-9 sniff at the front door of a home was a search requiring a warrant. They did not address roadside K-9 sniffs that take place during routine traffic stops, but found for the Constitution, holding that a K-9 sniff at a house is a search and does require a warrant.
The majority opinion was written by Justice Antonin Scalia, known for his staunch conservatism, but a longstanding champion of Fourth Amendment rights nonetheless. Kagan, Sotomayor, Thomas and Ginsburg round out the majority in this 5-4 opinion. Scalia and Thomas are some of the most conservative justices the Court has seen, while Kagan, Ginsburg and Sotomayor are some of the most liberal. It is nice to see that the Court is focused on the law rather than politics this time around. As I wrote in my previous article, the Court's ruling in Kyllo (also a Scalia opinion) should have governed K-9 searches. Finally, the court at least recognizes that a K-9 sniff at a home will constitute a search and requires a warrant. Sorry cops - no more loophole. This is America. Can we at least have some of the rights we've been promised?
The Jardines Court did not alter the Caballes ruling, which permits warrantless sniffs of cars during routine traffic stops. Does this mean the argument is over? Hopefully not. In fact, it was another recent opinion, not the Jardines ruling, that prompted this blog article.
In US v. Taylor, the US District Court in West Virginia (a Federal Court), held that police may not "permeate" a car during a K-9 sniff. This practice involves closing the windows and turning on the AC of an automobile to make a K-9 sniff more likely to detect contraband. Police dash cams will start to uncover this practice as well as officer-induced false positives and hopefully bring an end to K-9 searches altogether. The law seems to be slowly falling into place.
K-9 "officers" are still in active use in daily policing by local law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles and Southern California, but I would predict a decline in their use. As society begins to recognize the failed drug war, the constitutional rights violations carried out in the name of that war, and also recognize greater rights for animals, the use of canines by police departments should eventually come to an end.
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