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Supreme Court to decide whether drug dogs may sniff outside homes

This news story was published on January 7, 2012.
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By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed Friday to decide whether police may use a drug-sniffing dog at the front door of a house or an apartment to detect marijuana, even if the officers have no evidence of criminal conduct.

The decision in a Florida case will be the latest test of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against “unreasonable searches” in drug cases. It also will be the third in a trilogy of rulings on drug-sniffing dogs.

In the past, the court has upheld the use of dogs to sniff luggage at airports and to sniff around cars that were stopped along the highway. The justices said that using trained dogs in public areas didn’t violate anyone’s right to privacy.

The Florida Supreme Court, however, said homes are different. The Fourth Amendment “applies with extra force where the sanctity of the home is concerned,” the state justices said last year.

Based on that rationale, they overturned a Miami man’s conviction for growing marijuana at home. Acting on a tip, officers had taken Franky, a Labrador retriever, to the front porch of a home owned by Joelis Jardines. The dog detected the odor of marijuana and sat down as he was trained to do. The police then used this information to obtain a search warrant. They found 179 marijuana plants inside the house.

Throwing out the evidence, the state justices said they were unwilling to permit “dog sniff tests … at the home of any citizen” unless the police had “probable cause” of criminal wrongdoing.

But the Supreme Court voted to hear the appeal of Florida prosecutors who contend that a dog’s sniffing for drugs is not a “search” under any circumstances.

“Because a dog’s alert tells the officer one thing, and one thing only — that the house contains illegal drugs — it cannot constitute a search,” said Florida’s state attorneys.

Eighteen states supported Florida’s appeal and argued police dogs are a valuable tool for detecting drugs and explosives.

The high court usually sides with the police in search cases. In May, the justices ruled police were justified in breaking down the door of an apartment in Lexington, Ky., because they smelled marijuana and believed the occupants were about to destroy the evidence. In an 8-1 decision, the court reasoned the police did not have time to obtain a search warrant.

But not every search method wins approval. The justices rejected the use of thermal imagers, which can detect the heat of powerful lights used to grow marijuana. In that case, the court decided that the device allows police to look into a house, and thereby violates the privacy rights of the homeowners.

The court said Friday it would hear the case of Florida vs. Jardines in April and issue a ruling on drug-sniffing dogs by late June.

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7 Responses to Supreme Court to decide whether drug dogs may sniff outside homes

  1. Avatar

    Carl Grover Reply Report comment

    November 10, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    The “nothing to hide” argument is the kind of flawed thinking that further erodes our civil liberties. It’s used to justify warrantless searches of our vehicles and stop and frisk policies in New York City. I wonder if people will re-think the wisdom of that logic should it come to random home searches.

    • Avatar

      a citizen Reply Report comment

      November 10, 2012 at 5:06 pm

      The only people who have a problem with this are those who use/abuse illegal drugs. Note the term “illegal”. Just because you don’t wish to be caught breaking the law is no reason to call the “nothing to hide” arguement “flawed thinking”. As I remarked in a previous comment,
      “Remember Curries, Carl?” I seem to remember a certain individual who was very vocal about opposing the proposed Curries drug testing policy, only to find in future happenings just why he was so much against it.

  2. Avatar

    Buzz Crumcutter Reply Report comment

    January 9, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Let em sniff all they want. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. It’s all the closet weed burners who cry foul anyway.

  3. Avatar

    Peter Reply Report comment

    January 8, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    I say just wait until the marijuana leaves the house and deal with it then. The sanctity of the home should be protected…except where it involves violations of other peoples civil rights, such as in abuse, violence in the home, kidnapping, rape, etc..The act of growing plants in and of itself does not violate anyone’s civil rights, and therefore the cops need to arrive at probable cause before they can go “sniffing around” the home. I find it ridiculous that people don’t equate a porch or around the yard as an extension of one’s home. It’s all private property and the cops and their dogs, need to stay off the property.

    • Avatar

      Observer Reply Report comment

      January 8, 2012 at 11:29 pm

      Peter, it’s all about probable cause. If the Police have it, it’s too bad for the drugheads.

  4. Avatar

    Peter Reply Report comment

    January 7, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Very simple solution to this problem. Legalize marijuana and the State won’t have to concern itself if people are growing it in their homes.

    • Avatar

      Observer Reply Report comment

      January 8, 2012 at 1:54 pm

      Peter, to a majority of people in the U.S. that is not a solution. And until you see that change, cases like this will come up to determine proper and legal uses of technology and other methods.

      I think the use of thermal imaging was a creative try, but in all cases, there must be that critical probable cause.