The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently heard a case involving a Minnetonka
man who was convicted of multiple felonies after a police dog detected
illegal substances from the hallway outside the man’s condo. Police
didn’t have a warrant at the time, but relying on the dog’s
intuition and an anonymous tip, they applied for one that same afternoon.
The man was later found to be in possession of large quantities of marijuana
and oxycodone, was convicted of five felonies, and was sentenced to five
years in prison.
The question before the court of appeals was whether the police effectively
conducted a warrantless search of the man’s home. The majority of
the Appeals Court panel did not agree that the dog sniff at the condo
door counted as a “search” because the police did not penetrate
the exterior boundary of the man’s home - therefore, no warrant
was needed. According to now-Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, the minimal intrusion
into a person’s interests in this type of situation is outweighed
by the government’s interest in fighting drugs.
Ultimately, as long as the police have a “reasonable suspicion”
of criminal wrongdoing, the court found, police do have the authority
to bring drug-sniffing dogs into a residence’s common hallways without
the need for a search warrant.
Joseph Tamburino, who represented the defendant in this case, the Appeals Court’s
decision raises troubling issues for those who live in condominiums and
apartment buildings. Essentially, drug-sniffing dogs are legally allowed
to sniff on the seam of a person’s door without a warrant. Mr. Tamburino
points out that if this is the case, police may also argue that they can
use other tools at a person’s door, like listening devices or heat
seeking tools, on the threshold of private residences.
Like many others, Mr. Tamburino is concerned that the use of drug dogs
in residential common areas violates minimal expectations of privacy.
“When you live in a building where there are communal areas, you
have less expectations of privacy,” he said of the case. “But
when you get up to the doorway, it should not matter whether the doorway
to your home is a free standing single-family house, a duplex, a condo
building or an apartment building. That’s still the doorway to your
domicile and it should be respected.”