IS IT LEGAL FOR COPS TO SHOOT UNLICENSED DOGS? Pets shouldn't be treated as contraband.

Author:Ciaramella, C.J.

DO UNLICENSED DOGS have constitutional protections against being shot by police? It depends which federal judge in Michigan you ask.

A 2017 Reason investigation found narcotics raids in Detroit left a disturbing number of dead canines in their wake. Pets are considered property under the Fourth Amendment, shielding them from unlawful seizure by law enforcement. Although it takes a lot to prove a police shooting of a dog was unreasonable, cities have still paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars, more than $1 million in one instance, to settle such lawsuits.

In an effort to stymie those suits, lawyers representing Detroit have deployed a novel legal argument: If a dog is unlicensed, it counts as "contraband" under the Fourth Amendment, and its owner has no legitimate property interest in it.

In one case, Detroit compared Nikita Smith, whose three unlicensed dogs were shot by police during a marijuana raid, to a minor with an alcoholic beverage. The judge agreed. "When a person owns a dog that is unlicensed, in the eyes of the law it is no different than owning any other type of illegal property," U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh ruled last year. (Smith is appealing that ruling.)

This year, a different federal judge came to the opposite conclusion...

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