OSCEOLA, AR (KAIT) – Law enforcement agencies and judges across Region 8 are watching the United States Supreme Court closely these days. That's because justices are debating the effectiveness of drug dogs after a number of complaints have surfaced in Florida about illegal searches. The two cases involve a question about probable cause and privacy.
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Region 8 News reached out to a number of law enforcement agencies, judges and prosecutors Thursday. Former 2nd Judicial Court Judge and current state senator David Burnett said the Supreme Court's debate is interesting.
"That's a tool that law enforcement has been using for years that apparently had the blessing of the Supreme Court and now they're taking a second look at it," said Burnett. "I think what the court is looking at is a situation where officers suspect, but don't have sufficient probable cause. And then they use the dog as a tool, whether or not that's an invasion of one's privacy, when it deals with a residence."
There are two cases in Florida the court is currently looking at. One involves an officer who pulled over a car and only used the drug dog to obtain probable cause to search. The other involves an officer who went to a home and used the drug dog to sniff outside the front door.
Police told Region 8 News Thursday the second scenario was illegal.
"If you get access to a house through a search warrant or other legal bindings, enter the house, they have a false wall that contains their narcotics or money, firearms, anything like that, you can use a dog to find that," said Chris Griggs, investigator with the Mississippi County Sheriff's Office.
Griggs said there's a difference when it comes to probable cause for a car compared to a dwelling.
"Cars don't offer an expectation of privacy (like) a structure that you live in would," said Griggs.
Griggs said without drug dogs, it would be very difficult to obtain a search warrant during a traffic stop. He said a dog's nose is so sensitive; it can detect odors from areas where drugs were placed at one time.
"Our job is hard enough as it is from day to day. Any tool that we can get to help us is greatly beneficial to the department. It would really hurt us," said Griggs.
"There would be a lot more places that we wouldn't be able to search. A lot of people do go home and do not give us consent (to search) and she helps us get into places. She helps us to take things that we wouldn't be able to find," said Officer Jeff Rumbaugh with the Mississippi County Sheriff's Office.
Rumbaugh has been handling a two-year old German Sheppard for about three months. He said her effectiveness in tracking drugs is off the charts.
"We have different training aids, just different types of narcotics. We'll hide them in a vehicle, inside a building or any type of room or anything like that, and we'll work on her alerts. We'll throw out different kinds of distractions, noises, different kinds of odors and things like that to help her," said Rumbaugh. "She's found things that I would have never even believed were in there. I mean she's one of the best dogs that we've had in a long time."
Rumbaugh and Griggs both believe it's extremely unlikely the court will disallow officers to use drug dogs in the field. They both, however, are concerned.
"The 4th Amendment of the Constitution requires that officers have probable cause before they initiate a search. They, through the years, have used the dog as a tool to provide probable cause for initiating a search," said Burnett. "If they were not allowed to use the dog's alert as grounds for probable cause, it would have a tremendous effect on law enforcement."