U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Katz and Dogs - Canine Sniff Inspections and the Fourth Amendment

NCJ Number
Louisiana Law Review Volume: 44 Issue: 4 Dated: (March 1984) Pages: 1093-1107
H P Honsinger
Date Published
15 pages
This examination of Federal and appellate jurisprudence on whether canine sniff searches violate the fourth amendment concludes that classifying dog sniffs as subsearches governed by the amendment's requirement of reasonableness but exempt from the Warrant and probable cause requirements would satisfy judicial and law enforcement interests.
Most sniff cases are canine inspections of luggage, purses, or packages of travelers, usually triggered by a match between the suspect's behavior and a drug courier profile. A small percentage are school sniffs where canines are used in dragnet sniffs of unattended lockers, cars, or items and in sniffs of particular persons or items. While Federal courts are divided over whether airport sniffs constitute fourth amendment intrusions, the majority view is that an airport sniff is simply not a search. Opinions on school sniffs are divided among the circuits. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the dog sniff problem in United States v. Place (1983), a typical airport sniff case. While one justice commented that canine searches did not constitute a search within the meaning of the fourth amendment, parties in the case did not address this point. The Court's comments failed to resolve several problems about canine sniffs, particularly whether even the broadest and most discriminate of sniffs would invoke the fourth amendment. Using principles formulated in Katz v. United States, analysis shows such reasoning to be flawed. The rationale that a canine sniff is not a search because of its uniquely unobstrusive nature contradicts Katz. The second rationale, that a sniff is not an inspection of the object, also has dangerous implications for search and seizure law. The ruling in Terry v. Ohio on subsearches provides an alternative. Classifying a dog sniff as a subsearch allows judicial scrutiny of its reasonableness and offers fertile grounds for the development of judicial guidelines. The article contains 100 footnotes.