The police cannot simply kill your dog because you have failed to license it with the city, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday, reversing a lower court decision.
The case in question involved a police raid on the Detroit home of Nikita Smith in response to a report that marijuana was sold there. While executing the search warrant, officers fatally shot Smith's three dogs, one of which was pregnant. An officer allegedly commented after shooting a dog, "Did you see that? I got that one good." The raid turned up 25.8 grams of marijuana, and Smith was given a misdemeanor charge that was later dismissed.
She sued over the death of her dogs, and a district court ruled the suit could not go forward because Smith did not have "legitimate possessory interest" in the dogs "because they were unlicensed." The appeals court disagreed, holding that just "as the police cannot destroy every unlicensed car or gun on the spot, they cannot kill every unlicensed dog on the spot." Smith's suit can now proceed.
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"The opinion establishes that pet owners' Fourth Amendment rights do not depend on a license," said Smith's lawyer, Chris Olson. "More importantly, the opinion foreclosed a post hoc 'get out of jail free card' for police officers that unreasonably shoot dogs every day in this country."
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