Suspicionless Canine Sniffs: Does the Fourth Amendment Prohibit Public Schools from Using Dogs to Search Students without Individualized Suspicion?


Drugs plague our nation’s schools. Since traditional methods of fighting the problem are proving ineffective, some schools are trying new approaches. One such approach is using specially trained dogs to indiscriminately sniff students for the presence of illegal drugs. Using dogs to sniff students is controversial and has sparked a constitutional debate. The Supreme Court has not expressly ruled on whether suspicionless canine sniffs violate a public school student’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches. In fact, the Court has acted in a manner that actually increases uncertainty around the issue. This uncertainty makes employing suspicionless canine sniffs difficult for public schools.

My article helps public school officials make sense of the legal uncertainty in this area. First, the article provides background on how the Fourth Amendment governs public school officials. Second, it discusses how the Supreme Court’s actions have helped fuel uncertainty about whether suspicionless canine searches in schools violate the Fourth Amendment. Finally, the article provides five steps that public schools should take in deciding if a suspicionless canine sniff program is appropriate for their schools and, if so, how to best implement such a program.


Constitutional Law | Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure

Date of this Version

July 2006