Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry

Just imagine the fullest application of this search/seizure ruling

As an intelligent Missouri resident, would you be bothered by an apparent police ability to summarily enter an apartment complex with a pack of dogs and have them engage in warrantless drug-focused sniffs at every doorway?

We think we know our readers’ answer to that query.

It is likely to be the same as that forcefully delivered by a Minnesota appellate court and two justices of that state’s Supreme Court in their dissent decrying police tactics in a search-and-seizure case.

The key facts of that matter can be quickly related. Police officers brought a dog into an apartment hallway and had the animal sniff under a particular door, based on a drug-related tip they had received. No warrant was secured prior to the police action. The dog alerted on the doorway, which then prompted the officers to obtain a warrant and search the premises. They arrested its resident on a drug and weapons charge.

The case then steadily worked its way through the court system, with an appeals tribunal tossing the evidence on the grounds that the warrantless sniff constituted a privacy invasion and unlawful search/seizure under constitutional law.

Minnesota’s Supreme Court recently overturned that decision, ruling in a tight 3-2 case that dog sniffs “do not implicate an expectation of privacy.” As such, they cannot be termed searches at all and thus do not give rise to Fourth Amendment concerns.

That ruling did not sit well with dissenting judges. Their minority opinion stated that the majority seemed to differentiate between homeowners and apartment dwellers, with the former being provided greater protections in privacy-linked search-seizure matters.

Regardless of the type of residence, stressed the dissent, tenants cannot feel reasonably safe within it “if trained dogs can sniff the immediate surroundings … without a search warrant.”

The case directly implicates important criminal law concerns regarding permission to search, privacy expectations and warrant requirements. Interested parties in Missouri can candidly and confidentially discuss such matters with experienced St. Louis criminal defense attorneys.

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Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry

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