School Climate & Safety

Drug-Sniffing Dogs in Schools Not Violating Privacy Rights

By Ross Brenneman — March 28, 2013 1 min read
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Franky was a nice guy. He didn’t mean to cause any harm. He was a good boy with an extreme sense of loyalty, and a penchant for smelling when something was fishy.

Franky, the well-intentioned police dog.

But then, Franky found himself on the wrong side of the tracks. (Because that’s where his police officer, Miami-Dade detective Douglas Bartelt, took him.) The officer brought Franky to the front porch of a home suspected of containing narcotics. The dog gave a positive alert for drugs, and police came back with a warrant, eventually finding marijuana.

In a Supreme Court case decided Tuesday, Florida v. Jardines (Case No. 11-564), the justices ruled 5-4 that the dog’s alert violated the Fourth Amendment. Mark Walsh, over at The School Law Blog, has a detailed case breakdown, but the gist is that even if the detective followed other procedures accordingly, the presence of the police dog without a warrant constituted an illegal search, because the home’s interior is constitutionally protected.

The case has potential ramifications for schools, however, due to the content of Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent. He writes that because public spaces don’t have the same protections as private property, the court’s decision theoretically “does not apply when a dog alerts while on a public sidewalk or street or in the corridor of a building to which the dog and handler have been lawfully admitted.” So if a school opens its doors for a police dog, it would face the prospect of having that dog legally detect drugs or, ostensibly, anything contraband. The dissent isn’t binding, of course, but still gives a measure of how the court would rule in such a case.

Neither the majority nor Alito addressed what would happen if the detective had been crime dog Scruff McGruff.

Photo: Miami-Dade detective Douglas Bartelt and narcotics detector canine Franky give a demonstration in Miami. The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police cannot bring drug-sniffing police dogs onto a suspect’s property to look for evidence without first getting a warrant for a search. —Alan Diaz/AP-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.