Are you a Minnesotan who lives in an apartment or condominium? If so, a local court of appeals has ruled that you have no expectation of privacy:
Stuart Luhm of Minnetonka had challenged his conviction on drug and weapons offenses because police did not have a warrant to enter his building in the August 2014 raid that was based on a tip from an informant.
The front door of the building is normally locked, but police used a key in a locked box to which police have access, and Brio the drug-sniffing dog confirmed that drugs were probably in the condo unit Luhm shared with a girlfriend.
That was the point when police got a search warrant and found large quantities of marijuana, 93 oxycodone tablets, 7 firearms, and two bullet-resistant vests.
Two members of the Court of Appeals ruled today that there is no expectation of privacy in the common areas of a condominium building. It also said the fact the building owners make access available to police negated the need for a warrant to enter the building.
What makes this case interesting is that the drug dog alerted in the common area and that gave the law enforcers the justification they needed to pull a warrant. Drug dogs are of questionable effectiveness, so the idea that a warrant can be issued because one alerted is a bit absurd in my book. But this ruling effectively opens the doors for law enforcers to enter multiple unit dwellings with drug dogs but without warrants, allow the dog to sniff around, and pull a warrant for any dwelling that the dog raises an alert on. That sounds like a wonderful revenue raising scam if I’ve ever seen one.
It also raises questions about medical cannabis users. What happens when a dog raises an alert on an apartment because it caught the sent of cannabis? The law enforcer can obtain a warrant, kick in the door, shoot the family pet, and basically force the medical cannabis user to divulge their medical history to somebody who isn’t a medical professional to avoid being kidnapped for the crime of not having purchased a single family house.
Since drug dogs are of questionable in their effectiveness, this ruling also opens the door for legal harassment of non-drug users. If a law enforcer wants to harass somebody living in an apartment all they have to do is bring a drug dog into the common area, claim the dog raised an alert on the apartment, pull a warrant, and legally enter and harass the person for however long they so choose (and maybe find evidence of another crime while they’re tossing the joint).
Of course, privacy has been dead for a long time in this country. This ruling doesn’t change much. But it’s worth noting because it’s a great example of how the courts and law enforcers often work together (as opposed to act as checks and balances against one another) to expand the State’s ability to expropriate wealth from the populace.