Criminal Law: Appeals Court Rules Now-Illegal K-9 Search Still Okay

 Posted on November 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

Illinois criminal defense attorney, Illinois defense lawyer, search and seizure, K-9 search, Criminal law is constantly changing, especially with regard to the constitutional rights of criminal defendants. The U.S. Supreme Court can issue a decision that impacts the application of the law in Illinois and other states. When the law changes though, it may not change for everybody. That was the unfortunate lesson one defendant learned in a recent decision by the Chicago-based U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

USA v. Gutierrez

In late 2012, the Drug Enforcement Agency and police in Indianapolis received a tip regarding alleged drug trafficking at a local residence. Police went to the residence and used a drug-sniffing dog (or K-9 unit) to identify the presence of illegal narcotics. The dog sniffed the door of the residence and alerted the officers to the presence of drugs. Police then obtained a warrant and entered the residence, leading to the defendant's arrest for illegal possession of methamphetamine.

In 2005, the 7th Circuit, which oversees federal courts in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, held police may use drug-sniffing dogs on the outside of a private residence without first obtaining a warrant. The 7th Circuit reasoned the dog only revealed “the presence of narcotics,” but did not implicate any Fourth Amendment privacy interests. Prosecutors and police in this case relied on the 7th Circuit's decision in obtaining their warrant.

However, in March 2013, a few weeks after the defendant's arrest, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a case from Florida that the use of a drug-sniffing dog on a homeowner's porch did, in fact, constitute a “search” subject to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the Supreme Court, said that because the dog (and by extension the police) must “physically intrude” on a suspect's property, that was enough to trigger the need for a warrant.

Returning to the Indiana case, there was no question the Supreme Court's decision overruled the 7th Circuit's 2005 decision. But did that make the search of this defendant illegal? No, according to the 7th Circuit. Its 2005 decision remained “good law” at the time of the search, and police could rely upon it in using the K-9 to sniff the defendant's door prior to obtaining a warrant.

Keeping Current on the Law

The United States has a complex judicial system with federal and state courts all operating under somewhat different rules. What is good criminal law in one state or judicial circuit may not be so in another, and the Supreme Court can rewrite the rules for everyone on a moment's notice. That is why, if you are facing any sort of criminal charge, it is important to work with an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney who is up-to-date on the law. Contact the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney today if you have any questions.

Share this post:
Back to Top