CLAY COUNTY, Fla. - Thousands of dogs are used by police agencies around the U.S. in drug investigations. But investigators may now be limited as to how they use those K9s when searching a person's property.
The Supreme Court has ruled in a 5-4 split police cannot bring drug-sniffing police dogs onto a suspect's property without first getting a warrant.
The vote stemmed from a case in Florida where the state Supreme Court threw out evidence seized in the search of a Miami-area house.
That search was based on a drug dog alerting to a marijuana growing operation by getting the scent from a closed house.
The Clay County Sheriff's Office says this new ruling will not prevent people dealing, growing and using drugs from being caught.
"It really doesn't matter," said Barry Abramowitz, head of narcotics for the Sheriff's Office. "We'll adapt to it and we will enforce the law. If you're selling drugs, you may not get caught today, but you're probably going to get caught later on down the road, whether it's at your house or in your car.
Those who applaud the ruling say using K9s to find a drug home is unconstitutional due to the Fourth Amendment right to be free from the government's intrusion into their home.
"Now that the Supreme Court has made this decision, that's fine. We'll go to plan B or plan C or plan D," Abramowitz said. "It doesn't really matter. We'll find a way of gaining probable cause in gaining a search warrant to search a home. If we can't use a dog initially, we'll just use the dog later down the road."
When it comes to searching a suspect's property, it really only affects the home, not a vehicle.
"The K9 units will still be able on a traffic stop to allow the K9 to walk around the automobile and sniff," Channel 4 crime analyst Ken Jefferson said.
He said that's because it's mobile property, and police have an initial probable cause before pulling a suspect over in the first place.
This is the second decision this year on the use of drug-sniffing dogs by police. The court unanimously ruled earlier in another Florida case that police don't have to extensively document the work of drug-sniffing dogs in the field to be able to use the results of their work in court.