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U.S. Supreme Court Holds Warrantless Search by Drug-Sniffing Dogs at Front Porch Constitutes Unreasonable Search

On March 26, the U.S. Supreme Court (the “Court”) held that the Miami-Dade law enforcement officers conducted a trespassory invasion when they used a drug-sniffing dog at the front door of a suspected marijuana dealer’s home without obtaining a search warrant, and that this invasion constituted an unreasonable search and a violation of the suspected dealer’s Fourth Amendment rights. The decision in Florida v. Jardines, --- S. Ct. ----, 2013 WL 1196577 (U.S. Mar. 26, 2013), will have an impact on how law enforcement agencies in Florida conduct K-9 searches.

In 2006, Miami-Dade police detectives received an unverified tip that marijuana was being grown in the home of Joelis Jardines. One month later, detectives and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers sent a joint surveillance team to the Jardines home. After watching the house for fifteen minutes and witnessing no activity around the house, detectives approached the property with Franky, a chocolate Labrador trained to detect the scent of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other narcotics. The dog apparently sensed one of the odors he was trained to detect and alerted his handler by sitting near the area where the odor was strongest. The handler informed detectives that there had been a positive alert for narcotics. Based on this information, detectives applied for and received a warrant to search the home, which led to the discovery of 179 marijuana plants and Jardines’ arrest. At trial, Jardines moved to suppress the marijuana plants on the grounds that the canine investigation was an unreasonable search. The trial court granted the motion. Third District Court of Appeal reversed the decision, and the Florida Supreme Court quashed the Third District’s decision, holding that the use of a trained narcotics dog to investigate the Jardines home constituted a “search” under the Fourth Amendment that was not supported by probable cause.

In a 5-4 opinion delivered by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court held that the use of a drug-sniffing dog on a homeowner’s porch to investigate the contents of a home is a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The Court noted that the front porch constituted “curtilage,” and was a constitutionally protected area and part of the home for Fourth Amendment purposes. The Court also determined that the investigation was accomplished through an unlicensed physical intrusion, because the officer did not have an express or implied license to enter the porch. Because the investigation was accomplished through an unlicensed physical intrusion and this information was the basis for obtaining the warrant to search the house, the police conducted an unreasonable search of the Jardines property for Fourth Amendment purposes, and the marijuana plants were excluded as evidence.

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Tags: Florida Supreme CourtFort Lauderdale LitigatorsMiami LitigatorsFort Lauderdale Constitutional Law AttorneysMiami Constitutional Law AttorneysSouth Florida Constitutional Law AttorneysSouth Florida LitigatorsFlorida Litigation AttorneysFort Lauderdale Civil Litigation AttorneysMiami Litigation Attorney
Author(s): Brooke P. Dolara