Court ruling on police dogs to have little local impact

In this Dec. 3, 2012 file photo, a sheriff's deputy and his police dog make their way to search a crime scene north of Gainesville.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 6:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 6:15 p.m.

Tuesday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that police cannot bring a dog onto private property to search for drugs without probable cause dealt with a very old-school tool for police that should have little impact locally.

But the issue behind the ruling — the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment protection against unwarranted search and seizure — is at the heart of bills in the Florida Legislature to require warrants to use drones and to search cellphones.

The high court Tuesday split 5-4 on the decision to uphold the Florida Supreme Court's ruling throwing out evidence seized in the search of Miami-area house. That search was based on an alert by Franky the drug dog from outside the closed front door.

Justice Antonin Scalia said in the ruling that a person has the Fourth Amendment right to be free from the government's gaze inside their home and in the area surrounding it.

The ruling should have little impact locally, as both police and attorneys said K-9s are not used that way in Gainesville or in Alachua County.

However, a common use of the dogs — to sniff around cars in public for contraband so that police have cause to get a search — will continue, they said.

Gainesville attorney Robert Rush, who has filed suits against police over the use of dogs, listened to oral arguments in the case and said the ruling upholds the Fourth Amendment.

"This would have allowed for police to pull into a neighborhood, walk down the street and if the dog alerted on any house, they would have probable cause to get into that person's house," Rush said. "That would be so intrusive. There has to be a particular basis, a reasonable suspicion or even probable cause before they can come to your front door and intrude in that manner."

Rush said he is not aware of any instance locally in which police have used dogs in such a way. But police, said Rush and Gainesville Police Department spokesman Officer Ben Tobias, often use dogs to sniff around cars on public roads to detect contraband.

Courts have ruled the use of dogs to sniff around cars is not an unwarranted intrusion because of the public nature of roads.

"We use them for vehicles all the time, but I can't remember a case where we've taken a dog to a door for narcotics," Tobias said. "We try to give the benefit of the doubt. In police 101, unless you have a valid reason to be there, it's a huge no-no for us. We are not going to walk up there with a dog just to see if there is an odor of narcotics."

Eighth Circuit State Attorney Bill Cervone said drones — not dogs — are the cutting edge of Fourth Amendment issues.

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has filed legislation that would ban police from using drones without a warrant or threat of a terrorist attack. The bill also would prohibit information collected by drones to be used as evidence in courts.

The legislation is a pre-emptive strike against the drones — Miami-Dade police and the Orange County Sheriff's Office already have or are planning to get the aircraft.

"It is strictly anticipatory. There is also legislation dealing with the ability to get information from cellphones or off cellphone towers," Cervone said. "The courts have said we can. If I arrested you and took the phone, I can look at it for whatever is in there — the theory being it is no different than any other container. The objection is that the nature of the data is so different than what's in a cigarette pack."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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