If you’re stopped while driving a car, the police can use a dog to sniff for drugs around your car provided the search does not unduly prolong the traffic stop. But can the police use a dog to sniff around your house?

The answer is generally no. A dog sniffing outside your home is an intrusion within the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. The area immediately surrounding and associated with your home is called “the curtilage.” The exact dimensions of the curtilage depend on the facts of each situation, but if something is inside the curtilage, it falls within Fourth Amendment protections. Therefore, the police must obtain a warrant before bringing a dog to sniff immediately outside your house.

In State of Florida v Jardine, police used a drug-sniffing dog on a homeowner’s porch to uncover marijuana plants. The U.S. Supreme Court held the search illegal because it came uninvited within the curtilage of the home.

Following the Jardine rule, an Illinois Appellate Court refused to uphold a search where police had entered an apartment building through a common locked door that had been left partially ajar. The police used a dog to sniff for drugs outside the defendant’s apartment. (The state acknowledged the search was illegal after Jardine, but believed a doctrine known as the good faith exception applied because the officer relied in good faith on the law prior to Jardine. The Illinois court disagreed. See People v Brown.)

In another Illinois decision, the court struck down the use of a narcotics dog to sweep the halls of an apartment building in the middle of the night. (See People v Burns.) The court noted that that the police were not simply walking down the sidewalk when the dog happened to smell the drugs. Furthermore, there is no implicit invitation for visitors to come to defendant’s front door at that time, and thus police could not legally approach her door without a warrant.

If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. An experienced attorney can evaluate your case for your best possible defense. If the police search was illegal, an attorney can bring a motion asking the judge to suppress the results of the search. Even if the police followed procedures correctly and the evidence against you is overwhelming, an attorney who is respected in the courthouse may be able to negotiate a better plea agreement then you could on your own.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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