Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court sent down a decision in Florida v. Jardines that is likely to have a big impact on law enforcement use of drug-sniffing dogs.
The Miami-Dade Police Department and federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency sent a surveillance team to Jardines’s home in 2006 after receiving an unverified tip that he was growing marijuana there. They saw no activity during the first 15 minutes, so two police officers approached the house along with a drug-sniffing police canine. The dog apparently smelled one of the drugs it was trained to trace and, after pacing frantically, sat at the base of the home’s front door. According to police, this is the trained behavior upon discovering the odor’s strongest point.
Based on this information, the police obtained a warrant to search Jardines’s home. A search uncovered several marijuana plants and Jardines was charged with trafficking the drug. A trial court agreed to suppress the marijuana plant evidence, however, finding that the use of the drug-sniffing dog prior to getting a warrant constituted an unauthorized search. The Third District Court of Appeals later reversed this decision. The Florida Supreme Court then quashed the Third District’s ruling, finding that the use of a narcotics dog to investigate the home was a search under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment and was not supported by probable cause.
Affirming the decision, the nation’s highest court said that the cops needed probable cause to approach the house with the dog. Calling the issue “a straightforward one,” Justice Antonin Scalia explained that the “curtilage” of a home – the area directly surrounding it – enjoys the same protection under the Fourth Amendment as the home itself. “At the Amendment’s very core stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion,” Scalia wrote. “This right would be of little practical value if the State’s agents could stand in a home’s porch or side garden and trawl for evidence with impunity…”
The court distinguished the matter from a situation in which officers may notice suspicious or illegal activity while simply passing by a home or by observing the home from publicly navigable airspace overhead. In this case, the police officers and dog were clearly located on a constitutionally-protected extension of Jardines’s home. They were not invited guests and did not have license to snoop around, according to the court.
Finally, the court rejected the State’s claim that use of a drug-sniffing dog could not have implicated the privacy interests Jardines had inside his home. In so doing, the court said the case was similar to U.S. v. Jones, in which it held last year that use of a GPS tracking device attached to a defendant’s car was a Fourth Amendment search requiring probable cause.
Here, the unverified tip did not establish probable cause. As a result, the trial court properly suppressed it.
Search and seizure issues like this often arise in criminal cases and can mean the difference between conviction and acquittal. If you have been charged with a crime in Florida, contact the South Florida criminal attorneys at Anidjar & Levine. With offices in Ft. Lauderdale, we serve clients throughout the region, including in Hialeah, Pompano Beach and Boca Raton.
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