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Officer posing with police dog.

POLITICS: Supreme Court asked to decide if police dog committed an illegal search by putting paws on car

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Petitioners are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case in which they claim a police K-9 officer violated the Constitution by jumping up and placing its paws on a vehicle during a traffic stop.

The case relates to Nero, a Belgian Malinois working as a police dog in Idaho. Nero uncovered meth residue and other drug paraphernalia during a search, but he also briefly jumped and placed his front paws onto the door of a car, which petitioners argue violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against “unreasonable searches.”

The driver of the car, Kirby Dorff, was ultimately convicted on charges of felony drug possession. The Idaho Supreme Court tossed out Dorff’s conviction in March, however, arguing that Nero’s pounce onto the door constituted a “warrantless search.”

Court records say police first pulled over Dorff after he made an erratic turn across three lanes of traffic in 2019. Nero arrived with his handler shortly after, and made two circuits around Dorff’s vehicle. Nero jumped up several times during the second circuit.

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A police dog placed his paws on a car while sniffing, calling into questions whether this is a violation of the Fourth Amendment in Washington, D.C. (Mountain Home Police Department)

After finding evidence of drug possession in the vehicle, police obtained a warrant to search Dorff’s motel room, where they found more evidence, according to USA Today.

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Idaho’s Supreme Court found in a 3-2 ruling that while police K-9s are free to sniff the air around a given vehicle, they are not allowed to attempt to get inside the vehicle without a warrant.

Officer playing with police dog.

Constitutionality called into question after a police dog places his paws on a car in Washington, D.C. (Mountain Home Police Department)

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The court compared the situation to “the difference between a dog’s tail that brushes against the bumper of your vehicle as it walks by — and a dog who, without privilege or consent, approaches your vehicle to jump on its roof, sit on its hood, stand on its window or door.”

The Supreme Court building

The Supreme Court could hear a case on K-9 searches later this year. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court decide among themselves which cases to hear each term.

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The high Court ruled in 2013 that it is unconstitutional for police to bring a drug search dog onto a suspect’s property without a search warrant.



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