Illinois Court Rules on Police Use of Drug-Sniffing Dogs

joliet drug defense lawyer

Two recent decisions by the Illinois Supreme Court have clarified the Fourth Amendment rights of Illinois citizens, specifically when the police use drug-detection dogs in multi-unit apartment buildings. This is important news for marijuana users and others who may be concerned about charges of illegal drug possession while partaking in occasional recreational use in the privacy of their home.

Illinois Police Need Search Warrant to Use Drug-Detection Dog Inside Locked Apartment Building

Two years ago, in October 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the police must obtain a search warrant before they can bring a drug dog inside a locked apartment building and have the dog sniff outside the door of a specific apartment.
In that case, People v. Burns , 2016 IL 118973, an anonymous caller to the Crimestoppers’ hotline in Urbana, IL, gave the police a tip on a possible marijuana dealer. The caller alleged that the defendant was receiving regular shipments of marijuana from a relative in California and was selling about two pounds of marijuana every week out of her apartment.

The defendant lived in a three-story apartment building containing 12 units. The building was secured with locked entrances on two sides of the building, so that the common areas such as the lobby and hallways were not accessible to the public. The door to each apartment was accessible only from an interior hallway.

Late one January night, an Urbana police officer went to this apartment building to follow up on the tip and was let in through the locked door by another tenant. Once inside, the officer came upon a package shipped from Oakland, California, and addressed to the defendant. He then called another officer to bring the drug-detection dog to sniff the defendant’s apartment door. The dog alerted to the presence of illegal drugs.

The following morning, the police applied for a search warrant to enter and search the defendant’s apartment, citing the Crimestoppers’ tip and the use of the drug dog. That search yielded enough marijuana to charge the defendant with unlawful possession with intent to deliver between 500 and 2,000 grams of cannabis, a class 3 felony.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the warrantless dog sniff violated the defendant’s rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Without the dog sniff, the police would not have had sufficient probable cause to obtain the warrant that allowed the police to search inside the apartment. Therefore, the cannabis found inside the apartment was “fruit of the poisonous tree” and could not be used as evidence against the defendant.

Illinois Police Also Need Search Warrant Before Letting Drug Dog Sniff Apartment Door in Unlocked Building

In October 2018, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that a search warrant is also mandatory prior to allowing a drug-detection dog to sniff apartment doors in an unlocked apartment building ( People v. Bonilla , 2018 IL 122484).
In both the Burns and Bonilla cases, the Illinois court relied on a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Florida v. Jardines, which held that a warrantless dog sniff of an individual’s front porch constituted a search requiring a warrant under the Fourth Amendment. The Illinois court ruled that the threshold or door to a specific apartment is, like a front porch, to be considered part of the person’s home.

A Seasoned Will County Criminal Defense Lawyer Will Protect Your Rights

If the police have searched you, your car, or your home, consult a knowledgeable Joliet drug crimes lawyer while your memory is still fresh. If the police failed to obtain a search warrant or lacked sufficient probable cause for a search, they may have violated your Fourth Amendment rights. A skilled defense attorney can challenge an illegal search and may be able to get the charges against you dropped or reduced. Contact the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba at 815-740-4025.