Idaho Supreme Court: Drug-Sniffing Dog’s Search Was Unlawful Trespassing

The Idaho Supreme Court recently reversed a Mountain Home man’s conviction for narcotics distribution and possession. The man was arrested after the search that resulted from a police K-9 resting its paws on the man’s car, according to the court’s ruling.

On Monday, the court concluded, with three of the five justices concurring and two dissenting. Kirby Dorff was the subject of the case and was detained in 2019.

At Mountain Home, an officer pulled over Dorff after he crossed lanes of traffic without using a turn signal, according to court filings. Nero, a drug-detecting dog, and a second officer arrived at the site.


Nero started sniffing about the vehicle as Dorff stated he lacked a proper driver’s license and evidence of insurance.

The dog repeatedly hopped up against the automobile, including once when his paws were resting on the driver’s side door and glass; he was sniffing the “top seams” of the car, according to police body camera footage.

Police searched Dorff’s car after their drug-sniffing dog “alarmed” them regarding the presence of drugs. They discovered a pill bottle, some folded papers, and a paper bag carrying a white substance that came back positive for methamphetamine.

According to court filings, when officers searched the motel room that Dorff and a passenger shared, they discovered 19 grams of meth and other drug paraphernalia.

The motion to exclude the evidence was made by Dorff’s counsel, who claimed Nero trespassed on his car.

Dorff pled guilty with the understanding he may appeal the Ada County District Court judge’s decision to deny his application to suppress the evidence. He filed an appeal with the Idaho Supreme Court in June 2020.


According to Justice Robyn Brody, who authored the majority judgment, the dog’s entry on Dorff’s vehicle’s exterior constituted trespassing, just as it would have if the dog had gone inside the car.

The majority ruled that by climbing up on the car, the drug-sniffing dog “arbitrated” with Dorff’s personal belongings.

Chief Justice Richard Bevan and Justice Greg Moeller both filed opposing opinions. In contrast to the majority view, Moeller believed that Nero’s paws touching Dorff’s car did not amount to an unlawful search.

Bevan stated unintentional police interference differs from a drug-sniffing dog’s instincts.

This decision may significantly impact K-9 drug searches in Idaho and other states. It clarifies that the Fourth Amendment forbids unwarranted inspections of a vehicle’s exterior, even when trained police dogs carry out those searches.

This article appeared in NewsHouse and has been published here with permission.