Going to the Dogs-Part 2: Supreme Court to Decide if Pooch Sniff on Porch is a Fourth Amendment “Search”

While most of our federal white collar criminal cases do not involve drug detection dogs, I noted last week in this post that the Supreme Court will soon hear arguments in a case to decide whether an “alert” on a motor vehicle by a drug-detecting dog is enough to let the police then search the car. In “Going to the Dogs: Part 2”, the Supreme Court comes at the same issue from a different context: the pooch is on the porch of a home. The case is Florida v. Jardines, and it will be argued on Halloween Day.

Here is what happened in the lower courts. Miami police got a tip that Mr. Jardines was growing marijuana in his house. Based on that tip, a dog handler took the certified drug detecting dog (named “Franky”) to the door of Jardine’s house. Franky indicated that he had smelled drugs, and a detective then went to the door, where he too smelled marijuana. The police got a warrant, and found several live marijuana plants growing inside.

Jardines moved to suppress the drugs, arguing that the dog sniff at his door violated the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. The Florida Supreme Court agreed, holding that the dog sniff was a “search” that itself required a warrant. It was very important to the ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that the sniff took place at the front door of a house, because such activity invades the sanctity of the home, which generally gets more protection under the Fourth Amendment.

The State of Florida convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. The prosecution relied on several earlier Supreme Court cases holding that dog sniffs in other contexts are not searches. For example, the Supreme Court previously held that a sniff of a car or luggage in an airport is not a search because the sniff merely uses the circulating air to indicate whether drugs are present. Because here the dog merely signaled that he smelled drugs in Jardines’ house, the prosecution contends that this case is more like the other dog sniff cases. The State of Florida also noted that the Florida Supreme Court decision conflicts with the rulings by two federal appellate courts, each of which held that a dog sniff of a residence is not a search.

Mr. Jardines is relying significantly on Kyllo v. United States, as did the Florida Supreme Court. In Kyllo, the Court held that the warrantless use of an infrared device to detect a marijuana-growing operation in a house was unconstitutional because the device could reveal otherwise private information about legal activities within the home.

As mentioned earlier, dog searches only come up in a fraction of our cases, but constitutional principles are always important. We are always interested in cases where the Court is called on to protect the sanctity of a person’s home, so we will watch this matter closely.

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