US Supreme Court Strikes Down Use of Drug Dog to Investigate Private Residence

By: James Davis

Most assume that when officers enter a house, they automatically have the legal right to do so. That is a mistake. The truth is that on many occasions officers enter these dwellings without proper cause or use questionable means to obtain warrants.

Courts are frequently re-examining what officers can and cannot do when it comes to these issues. For example, recently, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a milestone opinion in the case of Florida v. Jardines. They held that the use of a drug-sniffing dog by law enforcement authorities to investigate allegations of a marijuana-growing operation inside a private residence are a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches.

This is an important win for the rights of all Florida residents.

The case involved a situation where police received a tip alleging that marijuana was being grown in a home in Miami, Florida. Miami police took a drug-sniffing dog to the front porch of the residence where the canine “alerted” to the presence of drugs. Based on the alert, the police obtained a search warrant for the home where they discovered several marijuana plants.

The defendant was charged with trafficking in marijuana, but his attorney filed a motion to suppress the fruits of the search, arguing that it was unsupported by probable cause, therefore rendering the underlying warrant invalid. Essentially the attorney argued that the police should not have been given a search warrant based on the “alert” by the dog.

The trial court agreed with the defendant’s position and suppressed the evidence obtained from the search. On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that the officers had engaged in a search under the purview of the Fourth Amendment that was unsupported by probable cause. The State of Florida appealed to the United States Supreme Court for review; arguments were heard in October of 2012.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court rulings and affirmed the rights of residents. The Court opined that government’s intrusion into the area immediately surrounding the home, referred to as the “curtilage,” for the purposes of gathering evidence was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Writing for a 5-4 majority, Justice Antonin Scalia concluded, “[T]he government’s use of trained police dogs to investigate the home and its immediate surroundings is a ‘search’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.”

The Court recognized that generally visitors to a residence are implicitly permitted to “approach the home by the front path, knock promptly, wait briefly to be received, and then (absent invitation to linger longer) leave.” The Court maintained that complying with the terms of a traditional invitation does not require any specialized legal knowledge and the implicit license granted to visitors does not extend to the use of a trained police dog to explore the area around a private residence in the hope of discovering incriminating evidence.

The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will almost certainly have implications in future criminal cases where defendants seek to contest searches based upon canine drug-sniffs. The case reaffirms the Court commitment to protecting private residents by excluding certain police officers from engaging in some investigatory activities inside the curtilage of a home.

It is critical to ensure that police officers do not overstep their bounds when trying to pin you with drug charges. Criminal defense Attorney James Davis has extensive experience defending the constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. Since 1999, Attorney Davis has successfully defended thousands of clients charged with drug offenses, robbery, burglary, sexual offenses, and DUI’s. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Florida, contact Attorney James Davis today.

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