The state and federal Constitutions mandate that without an exception, the police need a warrant to conduct a search. Some exceptions might include inventory search or search incident to an arrest. The Connecticut courts have declined to determine whether or not drug sniffing dogs and searches are “searches” for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, or in other words, whether searching with a drug dog requires a warrant.
Federal Court Rulings
Federal courts, have addressed this issue in numerous cases; however, a clear rule has not been established. The Federal courts have adopted a case-by-case analysis. Also, they make the determination of whether a search by a drug dog constitutes a Fourth Amendment search based on the totality of the circumstances of the arrest. In addition, the Connecticut courts have adopted this approach, as evidenced by the decision of the court in State vs. Waz, 240 Conn. 365 (1997).
Searches of Mail
Connecticut courts have approached the issue of drug dog searches in two contexts. 1) searches of a vehicle and 2) searches of mail. In State vs. Waz, 240 Conn. 365 (1997) the court held that drug sniffing dog searches not reach the level of protection required. So, this happens if the police were to open the parcel of mail. In that case, the police had reasonable and articulable suspicion that the parcel of mail contained narcotics. Rather than open the package (which would have required a warrant), the police used a drug dog to investigate.
The court ultimately reasoned that the search by the drug dog was “minimally, if at all, intrusive of the defendant’s legitimate privacy rights, and the officer conducting the canine sniff had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the parcel contained illegal drugs”. Therefore, the search did not require a warrant. This holding concerning the mail was predicated on the seminal federal case involving trained narcotics detection dogs, US vs. Place, 462 U.S. 696 (1983). In that case, the United States Supreme Court held that “a canine sniff of luggage briefly detained upon reasonable suspicion in a public airport ‘[does] not constitute a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.’”
Searches of Vehicles
The Connecticut Supreme Court addressed the issue of drug dog searches of automobiles in State vs. Torres, 230 Conn. 372 (1994). Unlike the Waz decision, the court in Torres did not address the issue of whether or not the search of a motor vehicle by a drug dog is a search requiring a warrant. In Waz, the court found a search of mail was not a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. The court in Torres never addressed that issue. They found it was “not necessary to the determination of this appeal that we decide whether the circumstances of this canine sniff constituted such a search.” Torres at 381.
The court reasoned that this issue did not need to get addressed “because: (1) we have found no case that has held such a sniff of an automobile, properly stopped by the police, to a standard more demanding than reasonable and articulable suspicion; (2) the defendant in oral argument in this court conceded that standard to be applicable to the facts of this case; and (3) the canine sniff of the defendant’s automobile at issue here was based on reasonable and articulable suspicion.” Id. at 381-82.
Motor Vehicles and Drugs
In summary, the Torres court found that in a situation in which the police had reasonable and articulable suspicion to believe that the motor vehicle contained drugs (here, based on a tip from a reliable confidential informant), the search of the vehicle by a drug dog did not require a warrant and was constitutional. The United States Supreme Court addressed a similar issue in Illinois vs. Caballes, 543 US 405 (2005). In Caballes, an individual was legally stopped for a traffic violation. While the officer was speaking with the defendant, another officer arrived on scene with a drug dog and search the exterior of the vehicle. The drug dog alerted to the presence of a controlled substance and the defendant was subsequently arrested.
The Supreme Court held that “the use of a well trained narcotics detection dog that ‘does not expose noncontraband items that otherwise would remain hidden from public view,’ during a lawful traffic stop, generally does not implicate legitimate privacy interests. In this case, the dog sniff was performed on the exterior of respondent’s car while they were lawfully seized for a traffic violation. Any intrusion on respondent’s privacy expectations does not rise to the level of a constitutionally cognizable infringement.” Illinois vs. Caballes, 543 US 405, 409 (2005) (internal citations omitted). The court further held that because there was no cognizable infringement, the search did not require a warrant.