People v. Devone: New York Offers Drivers More Protection from Warrantless Canine-Sniff Searches . . . or Does It?

Brady Begeal, Topics Chair, Albany Government Law Review Member

Introduction

The United States Supreme Court directly addressed the constitutionality of using drug-sniffing canines for the first time in 1983, holding that a “search” under the Fourth Amendment had not taken place when police used a canine to sniff a person’s luggage at an airport.[1] The Court revisited the issue in 2005, unanimously concluding again that a police officer’s use of a canine to sniff the exterior of a driver’s vehicle to locate hidden narcotics did not constitute a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.[2] The result of these decisions is that under federal law police generally do not need any level of suspicion to use canines to sniff for drugs.  However, the New York Court of Appeals, through its continued commitment to provide greater state constitutional protection from unreasonable searches, has decided to the contrary.  In People v. Devone, the Court of Appeals decided “whether a canine sniff of the exterior of a lawfully stopped vehicle constitutes a search under article I, § 12 of our State Constitution and, if so, what level of suspicion is required before law enforcement can conduct that search.”[3] In a 4-3 decision, the Court found that a canine sniff does amount to a “search”, thus triggering the protection of the state constitution.[4] Despite this, the Court held that a “reasonable suspicion” is not required, but instead, police need only a “founded suspicion that criminal activity is afoot” before such a search can take place.[5]

Continue reading “People v. Devone: New York Offers Drivers More Protection from Warrantless Canine-Sniff Searches . . . or Does It?”

A “Right to be Secure” From GPS Tracking? Not Under the Fourth Amendment

Andrew Dructor, Staff Writer

I. Intro

In May of 2009, the New York Court of Appeals held that under the New York State Constitution police agencies would be required to obtain a warrant before attaching a GPS device in order to track a suspect’s automobile.1  However, the Court noted that this issue is still unsettled as a matter of federal law under the Fourth Amendment.2  This blog post describes what GPS is, provides current Supreme Court Fourth Amendment analysis of “search and seizure,” describes how courts around the country have ruled on the issue, and concludes by arguing that it is time for the Supreme Court to change its Fourth Amendment analysis in order to take into account the history that shaped it.

II. GPS

Global Positioning System (GPS) was developed in the 1970s by the U.S. Department of Defense and was made possible through a network of satellites.3 It provides twenty-four-hour-a-day location information accurate within one meter (1.094 yards, 3.281 feet).4  This also enables it to track direction and speed.  GPS devices have become “a mainstay of transportation systems worldwide” and are small enough to fit in cell phones and wristwatches.5  GPS devices are also becoming cheaper and can be purchased for under $100.6 

GPS has also become a tool to fight crime.  John Wesley Hall, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, commented: “I’ve seen them in cases from New York City to small towns — whoever can afford to get the equipment and plant it on a car.”7  The few law enforcement authorities who have commented on GPS use have noted that it “is essentially the same as having an officer trail someone, just cheaper and more accurate.”8  GPS takes the place of the officer who would normally have to follow the suspect himself.  This allows police authorities to use less man-power tailing suspects because all of the GPS devices could be monitored by a single officer in one room.  Continue reading “A “Right to be Secure” From GPS Tracking? Not Under the Fourth Amendment”