Man’s Best Friend & Drug Cases

A recent case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court may have great implications for the role of man’s best friend and the Fourth Amendment as it applies to searches in drug cases.+

In 2006, the Miami-Dade County Police Department received a Crime Stoppers tip that Joelis Jardines was growing marijuana in his home. Officers, accompanied by the K-9 (“Franky”), walked up to Jardines’ front door. Franky then positively alerted to the scent of drugs. After getting a search warrant, officers confirmed Jardines was growing marijuana in his home, seized the evidence, and arrested him.

Jardines claimed that officers conducted an illegal drug sniffing dogsearch and therefore, the evidence shouldn’t be admissible in court. The trial court agreed with Jardines, but the appellate court reversed the decision. The Florida Supreme Court found that Franky’s sniff was a “search” under the Fourth Amendment, as it was a substantial government intrusion into the sanctity of the home. This past Halloween, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments, and now must determine whether police’s drug detection dog’s sniff outside a home allows police to get a search warrant for illegal drugs.

To date, the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t consider a dog sniff to be a search under the Fourth Amendment. In U.S. v. Place (1983), a man’s luggage was detained in a public airport and was subjected to a dog sniff. However, Jardines’ case is different in that his home was the subject of the dog sniff. Likewise, Jardines argued the basis of the Fourth Amendment is that the home is one’s castle. In other words, a citizen has a much greater expectation of privacy in his own home than anywhere else. On the other hand, the State of Florida argued there is a significant difference between using a K-9 dog and actual technology, like heat detection devices. K-9 dogs issue an “alert,” or behavior when they detect the specific odor they are trained to identify. In other words, the dogs can’t obtain any more details about the home. The State also said that Franky and the officers did little more than the postman or the trick-or-treater.

But was the dog sniff test really as clear-cut as the State makes it out to be? In Jardines’ case, law enforcement personnel and vehicles were there for hours, and the sniff test was conducted in plain sight of the neighborhood, with no anonymity and possibly public humiliation for Jardine. Also, if the Supreme Court decides dog sniffs outside a private residence are not considered searches, will this open up doors for law enforcement to arbitrarily walk up to front doors or develop new detection devices? As a homeowner and even apartment renter, what does this mean for you?

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