The use of dogs to sniff out contraband remains one of the most frequent methods by which police discover contraband in vehicles traveling on the highway. The Supreme Court has allowed such searches in limited circumstances, but only in those instances where there is not a delay between the stop and the dog's arrival. Anything beyond a brief delay constitutes a seizure, which requires probable cause to be lawful. This "time-limiting doctrine" was firmly adopted by the Supreme Court in Rodriguez v. United States.
We are often asked whether police officers have the right to approach a person's home without a warrant and then use what they observe to search the home. Generally, in the absence of "no trespassing" signs or fences, officers have the right to engage in what is referred to a "knock and talk" of a home, that is they have the right to walk on the sidewalk of your home, knock on your front door and engage you in a "consensual encounter." They do not have the right to conduct warrantless searches of your property. Nor do they have the right to enter into your backyard. In fact, the right to engage you is extremely limited. Law enforcement personnel often exceed the authority given to them under the walk and talk doctrine. This article discusses two cases which have limited the ability of police officers to conduct warrantless searches in the curtilage of your home and what you should do to protect yourself from unlawful searches and seizures on your property.