Drug Dogs Can’t Sniff at Your Door Without a Warrant, US Supreme Court Rules


In a 5-to-4 Decision on Tuesday, March 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police violated the Fourth Amendment rights of a homeowner when they led Franky, a drug-sniffing dog, to the front door of a house where police suspected marijuana was being grown.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a ten-page majority opinion that stated, “A police officer not armed with a warrant may approach a home and knock” at the front door, 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.” Joining Scalia in that opinion were Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

The case being considered was Florida v. Jardines, and whether police acted properly when they led a drug-trained dog, named Franky (pictured), onto a front porch onto and up to the door of a house near Miami where Joelis Jardines, the homeowner/occupant, was suspected of growing large quantities of marijuana. "Franky,” then signaled his handler that he smelled narcotics.

The dog’s “alert” was combined with other evidence to demonstrate probable cause and obtain a search warrant from a judge. A raid and search revealed that the house was, in fact, being used to grow marijuana.

However, Jardines’ lawyer challenged the legality of the raid and search. He said police needed a warrant before bringing Franky onto Jardines’ property and up to the front door.

The trial judge agreed and invalidated the search. A state appeals court later reversed that decision.

The matter then was forwarded to the Florida Supreme Court, which agreed with the trial judge 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.

In the decision Tuesday, Scalia affirmed that The Fourth Amendment’s special protection against police intrusion into a home without a warrant, extends to the porch; and, since the police had no search warrant to be on Jardines’ porch, there was no valid search.

Last month, in Florida v. Harris, the Court affirmed its confidence in the reliability of trained drug-sniffing dogs, in a case involving another Florida police dog, Aldo. The Supreme Court ruled that police officers can search a car or truck for drugs once a canine snooper has “alerted” to a smell on the vehicle. If the police offer evidence that a dog has been trained, or got a certificate from a training agency, that may well be enough to give police permission to turn an “alert” into a search of a vehicle, the Court said in a unanimous decision written by Justice Elena Kagan (Florida v. Harris, docket 11-817).

However, Franky’s presence on the porch with the police was a different matter, according to Scalia, and the justices who voted with him.

Both Jardines and Harris challenged the searches as violations of their Fourth Amendment rights, arguing that the police should have gotten a warrant before they deployed drug-sniffing dogs--Franky and Aldo, explains Slate.com. The difference mostly comes down to the Constitution’s deference to the home as a place we retreat to with special expectations of privacy. A man’s home--but not his car--is his castle, Slate wrote.

Scalia explained that, rather than approaching the issue from the position of whether the homeowner had a reasonable expectation of privacy, the justices ruled on concern for the traditional property-based understanding of the Fourth Amendment. The property-based approach asks a more fundamental question: Did the underlying actions constitute a search.

“The basic rule is that a search occurs for Fourth Amendment purposes when the government physically intrudes for investigative purposes on one of the areas that the amendment protects: that is, onto persons, houses, papers, or effects,” Scalia said in announcing that this was an “easy” decision in open court.

In a dissent, Justice Samuel Alito said Scalia’s property-based rule “is nowhere to be found in the annals of Anglo-American jurisprudence.Alioto further opinioned that, while the court claims that its reasoning has ancient and durable roots, its trespass rule is really a newly struck counterfeit.”

Alito said that a reasonable person would understand that odors emerging from a private home may be detected in locations open to the public. He added that the home owner would enjoy no reasonable expectation of privacy in the escaping odors.

“The conduct of the police officer in this case did not constitute a trespass and did not violate respondent’s reasonable expectations of privacy,” Alito said.

Joining the dissent were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer.

Sources: CSM, Slate


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