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Minnesota Supreme Court Broadens Rules For Drug Dog Use

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
How much criminal evidence do police need before bringing a drug dog to sniff outside your door?

Not much, according to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which recently found that police did not need a warrant or probable cause to use a narcotics-detection canine at the threshold of a suspect's Burnsville apartment.

In a 5-2 finding, the court said a "reasonable, articulable suspicion" of drug activity was enough to justify the doorstep sniff.

"That standard is quite low," said Richard Frase, a University of Minnesota Law School professor.

The dissenting justices said the May 24 ruling encroached on the Fourth Amendment, which protects the public from unreasonable searches and seizures.

In previous rulings, the court had set a higher standard for dog sniffs than most other state or federal courts. In 2002 and 2005, the courts found that a modest level of privacy protected the exteriors of cars and storage units, thereby overturning criminal convictions in which police had called in drug dogs to sniff around on little more than a whim.

"Federally, and in other states, courts have said a dog sniff is no different than a police officer smelling an odor of marijuana in a vehicle," said Teresa Nelson, legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.

"Minnesota has over the past few years ... provided for a little bit stronger protection in the area of search and seizure, and that's encouraging," Nelson said. "I think what's discouraging

is this decision is going back in the opposite direction."

But law enforcement officials say the courts still have not struck the proper balance between protecting personal privacy and the public's interest in rooting out drug criminals.

"The Minnesota courts have made it more difficult," said James Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff's Association in Woodbury. "We can't just go (to a house) because a citizen says 'There's a lot of traffic there.' We have to develop and expend more taxpayer resources to prove there's an articulable suspicion."

The most recent court opinion stemmed from the August 2004 arrest of Scott Evan Davis. An employee of the Burnsville apartment complex where Davis lived had told police that Davis refused to let in maintenance workers to repair a possible water leak, and workers thought they had seen marijuana-growing hot lamps.

A background check revealed a history of criminal activity.

A Burnsville police officer thought that was enough information to justify using a drug-sniffing dog in the building's first-floor hallway, right up to Davis' door.

Based in part on the results of the doorstep sniff, police got a search warrant and entered the apartment, where they found various drug-related items. Davis was charged with two fifth-degree controlled substance crimes and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia.

In February 2005, Davis filed a motion to suppress the evidence and have the charges dismissed. His attorneys argued there was no probable cause to bring in a narcotics-detecting dog, and the doorstep sniff was effectively a search inside his home, violating his Fourth Amendment protections.

The district court denied his motion, concluding that the police needed only a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity - the tip-off from the building employee - to merit the doorstep sniff. The Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling.

In May, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the lower court findings.

Writing for the majority, Justice Lorie Gildea noted that because the sniff was in a shared hallway and was limited to detecting drugs, Davis suffered little violation of his privacy. The sniff was "minimally intrusive" - and what little intrusion was balanced by "the government and society's interest in effective law enforcement."

Justice Alan Page authored the dissent and was joined by Helen Meyer. Page worried the ruling created a slippery slope that could be used to erode search-and-seizure protections in people's homes.

"The use of the dog in this case was not only a search, it was a search of the interior of Davis's apartment," Page wrote. "Police were not searching for narcotics in the hallway."

Previously, the courts ruled that police did not need as much evidence to sniff outside private structures with a canine as they would need to obtain a search warrant or make an arrest, but they could not conduct dog sniffs arbitrarily.

In a 2002 opinion, State v. Wiegand, the court found that without some level of suspicion of illegal activity, police were not allowed to use a drug-sniffing dog after stopping a car because of a routine equipment violation. The case centered on a search outside a vehicle that had been stopped with a burned-out headlight.

In the 2005 opinion State v. Carter, the court took issue with the use of a drug-sniffing dog outside a private storage unit based on reports of people frequently going in and out.

In Carter, the dog sniff met the definition of a "police search" under the Minnesota Constitution (although not the U.S. Constitution), according to the justices, and needed to be justified by more than an "unarticulated hunch."

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Source: TwinCities.com
Contact: fmelo@pioneerpress.com
Copyright: TwinCities.com
Website: Minnesota Supreme Court / Rules broadened for drug dog use – Twin Cities
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