Police May Not Use Drug Sniffing Dogs Outside Front Doors, Supreme Court Rules – Florida v. Jardines
I was very pleased to see that a South Florida criminal case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court—which made a recent ruling protecting homes from unreasonable searches. In Florida v. Jardines, Joelis Jardines of Miami-Dade County was convicted on drug charges after police used a drug-sniffing dog to sniff around his front door. The dog indicated the presence of drugs, and police later discovered that the home was a marijuana “grow house” entirely filled with plants. Jardines moved successfully to suppress the search evidence, causing a series of appeals that led to a defendant-friendly ruling from the Florida Supreme Court. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that ruling, finding that the area immediately surrounding a home (“curtilage”) is part of the home itself for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.
The Miami-Dade Police Department got an anonymous tip that Jardines’s home was being used to grow marijuana. A month later, a team of officers visited the home. After 15 minutes of surveillance, two officers approached with a drug-sniffing dog on a long leash. The dog indicated the presence of marijuana, most strongly by the front door. The officers obtained a search warrant based on the dog’s behavior and discovered a grow house; Jardines was prosecuted for marijuana trafficking and grand theft. He succeeded in suppressing the search information at trial, but the Third District Court of Appeal reversed. The Florida Supreme Court reversed again, finding that the use of the drug-sniffing dog was a search of the home within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Thus, the search was illegal, the court agreed, and the evidence could not be used.
The Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s office appealed to the United States Supreme Court—but that court agreed with the Florida high court. The Fourth Amendment requires police officers to get a search warrant before physically intruding into a person’s home, the court noted. “That right,” wrote Justice Scalia for the majority, “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.” Previous cases have held that a home’s “curtilage,” the area immediately surrounding and associated with the home, is protected by the Fourth Amendment as well. Thus, the search with the dog required a search warrant. And because the police didn’t have one, the high court upheld the suppression of the search evidence. Concurring justices added that the search implicated privacy concerns; a dissent said there should be no reasonable expectation of privacy at a front door that many people may approach.
This case will have important results for defendants accused of all kinds of drug crimes. Because proving the existence of the drug is enough to create a conviction, drug-sniffing dogs are a valuable tool for law enforcement. If law enforcement doesn’t need any reasonable suspicion to use drug-sniffing dogs outside everyone’s home, there is nothing to stop officers from simply walking the dogs up to every home in their city, trolling for people to charge with drug crimes. That’s not a result the founders of our country envisioned when they wrote the Fourth Amendment, and I don’t believe it’s a desirable result in any century.
If you’re charged with a drug crime in South Florida, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. Don’t wait to call Seltzer Law, P.A. for a free consultation. You can reach us 24 hours a day and seven days a week at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us an email.
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