The Legality of Drug-Sniffing Dog Searches
Let’s face it, nobody really likes uninvited guests on their front porch, unless, of course, it is the time of year when the Girl Scouts are selling cookies or little trick-or-treat monsters are out and about. Aside from that, I’m not too keen on having people drop by unannounced, especially if that person is trying to investigate a crime or conduct a search and seizure.
The United States Supreme Court recently considered a case involving an unannounced (and unwelcome) furry visitor to a man’s front porch. The question presented was this: Is a dog sniff at the front door of a suspected drug house by a trained narcotics detection dog a Fourth Amendment “search” requiring probable cause?
In a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Scalia, the Supreme Court said YES, the use of the drug-sniffing dog was an unreasonable search.
Florida v. Jardines, 133 S. Ct. 1409 (2013)- In 2006, the Miami-Dade Police Department received an unverified tip that marijuana was being grown in the home of respondent Joelis Jardines. One month later, police took a drug-sniffing dog to Jardines’s front porch, where the dog gave a positive alert for narcotics. Officers obtained a search warrant, which revealed marijuana plants inside the home. Jardines was charged with trafficking in cannabis.
At trial, Jardines moved to suppress the marijuana plants on the ground that the canine investigation was an unreasonable search. The trial court granted the motion but the Florida Third District Court of Appeal reversed. On a petition for discretionary review, the Florida Supreme Court quashed the decision of the Third District Court of Appeal and approved the trial court’s decision to suppress, holding that the use of the trained narcotics dog to investigate Jardines’s home was a Fourth Amendment search unsupported by probable cause, rendering invalid the warrant based upon information gathered in that search.
The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari, limited to the question of whether the officers’ behavior was a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The Court held that the front porch of a home is part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes. While custom typically permits a visitor to approach the home “by the front path, knock promptly, wait briefly to be received, and then leave,” it does not allow a visitor to engage in investigative activity such as bringing a trained drug dog on the porch and allowing it to sniff around for incriminating evidence. Therefore, the government’s use of trained police dogs to investigate the home and its immediate surroundings was a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.
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