Police may not bring a drug-sniffing dog to the door of your home without a court-issued search warrant, the U.S. Supreme decided in a 5-4 ruling announced Tuesday.
In a decision that cut across the usual liberal-conservative lines, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the opinion of the court that police in Florida illegally conducted a search without a warrant when they led a drug-sniffing dog to the front door of a house where police suspected a resident was growing marijuana.
"A police officer not armed with a warrant may approach a home and knock" at the front door, Scalia wrote in the 10-page majority opinion. "But introducing a trained police dog to explore the area around the home in hopes of discovering incriminating evidence is something else," he said. "There is no customary invitation to do that."
The case, Florida v. Jardines, arose from a dog-sniffing search of the front porch and up to the front door of the residence of Joelis Jardines in the greater Miami area. Police suspected Jardines of growing large quantities of marijuana inside the house. When the dog, named Franky, gave an "alert," understood to be a positive indication of the presence of marijuana inside, police used that and other evidence to obtain a search warrant. A raid, based on the warrant, was conducted and a quantity of marijuana confiscated.
The lawyer for Jardines argued for suppression of the evidence, claiming the dog-sniffing constituted an illegal search, making the subsequent warrant illegitimate. The trial court agreed and suppressed the evidence from the search. After a state appeals court reversed that decision, the appeal went to the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled that using a dog to sniff odors emerging from the interior of a private home is a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and requires that police first obtain a warrant before leading the dog onto the property. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling Tuesday upheld the findings of both Florida's high court and the trial court and disagreed with the state appeals court ruling.
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