Police May Not Use Drug-Sniffing Dogs to Randomly Check Homes, High Court Rules

April 20, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

As a south Florida drug crimes defense attorney, I know police can overstep their authority when it comes to investigating drugs and narcotics. So I was pleased to read about a Florida Supreme Court ruling outlawing a police practice that randomly targets homes for searches. As the Miami Herald reported April 15, the court ruled 5-2 that police officers may not use drug-sniffing dogs to find marijuana “grow houses,” which are essentially indoor gardens carved out of residential homes. The ruling means prosecutors cannot use the evidence found in this manner against Joelis Jardines, a 38-year-old Miami-Dade man who was prosecuted for marijuana trafficking and grand theft. The Florida Attorney General’s office plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jardines came to the police’s attention after an anonymous call to the Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers hotline. A month later, the police took a trained dog to sniff around the front door of his home. When the dog indicated that it could smell marijuana, the police obtained a search warrant, investigated and ultimately arrested Jardines. However, he successfully argued at trial that the use of the police dog violated his constitutional right to be secure in his home. The court’s majority said searching individual residences is distinct from using drug-sniffing dogs in public places like airports. Justice James Perry wrote that the spectacle of a large-scale police search causes homeowners in Jardines’s position “humiliation and embarrassment.” Two justices dissented, arguing that there is no expectation of privacy on a home’s doorstep.

The expectation of privacy at issue here comes from the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, so it’s a very important basic concept of American law. That’s why, as a Miami-Dade narcotics criminal defense lawyer, I’m so pleased that the Florida Supreme Court ruled this way. The home is one of the places where the law agrees that defendants have a reasonable expectation of privacy; a warrantless search of the home would be a violation of that privacy and not permitted under the law. That’s the argument Jardines successfully made in this case. The ruling doesn’t take away police powers to search homes, of course — but it does take away their ability to do so without a warrant. Without the dogs, officers would have had to get a warrant based on the Crime Stoppers tip and perhaps detective work that would have taken longer. As a Fort Lauderdale marijuana criminal defense attorney, I think warrants and other checks on police power are an important way to protect our privacy.

Seltzer Law, P.A., represents clients throughout south Florida who are facing drug charges. Even serious drug cases can be challenged under the law, since so many rely on legally questionable searches — but time is important. To set up a free, confidential case evaluation, send us a message online or call us today at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE.