The Supreme Court of the United States finally handed down an anxiously awaited opinion regarding canine searches and the 4th Amendment. Most criminal defense attorneys in Miami, Florida and across the country waited to see how the Supreme Court would decide the matter. In a 5 to 4 decision, the high court decided that police officers cannot bring drug sniffing canines onto a person's property to search for drugs without first obtaining a warrant and that a dog's alert on the front porch is not sufficient in and of itself to merit the issuance of a warrant. The appellant in the case was charged with operating a marijuana grow house or in more common parlance trafficking in marijuana. The appellant, Joelis Jardines, was arrested and charged with multiple offenses involving marijuana trafficking.
On December 5, 2006, Miami-Dade narcotics detectives with special training in detecting marijuana grow houses received an anonymous tip regarding a residence being used to grow marijuana. Relying solely on the anonymous tip, a canine officer was summoned to the scene. The detective stood on the porch when his canine alerted to the front door of the residence. The alert by the canine along with the anonymous tip was enough for the narcotics detectives to obtain a search warrant. After returning with the warrant, a search of the residence revealed 179 marijuana plants growing inside the house. The street value of the marijuana seized was approximated to be worth $700,000. As a result of the search, Jardines was charged with marijuana trafficking and grand theft of electricity from FPL. His criminal attorney entered a not guilty plea on his behalf and filed a motion to suppress the marijuana as it was obtained through an illegal search.
The trial judge heard testimony from the prosecution and the defense and granted the motion to suppress. The state attorney's office appealed the decision which was reversed by the 3rd District Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court of Florida reversed the decision of the lower appellate court. The Supreme Court of the United States agreed with the Florida Supreme Court and found the search to be in violation of the 4th amendment. A number of dog sniff cases have been heard over the past couple of years. Most of the cases have been upheld contrary to the latest ruling. For example, canine sniffs are constitutional when checking automobiles or to search luggage in the airport.
Justice Antonin Scalia opined that the Fourth Amendment protects citizens from the government looking into their homes and in addition the area surrounding a home which is often referred to as a curtilage.
"The police cannot, without a warrant based on probable cause, hang around on the lawn or in the side garden, trawling for evidence and perhaps peering into the windows of the home," Justice Antonin Scalia said for the majority. "And the officers here had all four of their feet and all four of their companion's, planted firmly on that curtilage -- the front porch is the classic example of an area intimately associated with the life of the home."
Drug Dog's Sniff is an Unconstitutional Search, Rules U.S. Supreme Court, Huffington Post, March 26, 2013.