Drug Sniffing Dogs and the 4th Amendment

In the case of Florida v. Jardines, the United States Supreme Court addressed whether the use of a drug-sniffing dog on the porch of a homeowner constituted a search under the 4th Amendment. In short, the court found that it did.

For background, the police received a tip that the homeowner was growing marijuana. Based upon the tip, the police then entered the porch of the home with a drug-sniffing dog. The dog alerted the police to the presence of an illegal drug. The police then obtained a search warrant upon execution of which marijuana was discovered.

The defendant moved successfully at trial to have the evidence suppressed as fruit of an illegal search. The case was appealed making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court ruled for the defendant affirming the Florida Supreme Court.

The Court stated that a search has occurred when the “the Government obtains information by physically intruding on persons, houses, papers, or effects…” The Court stated that this principle made this an easy case to decide since the police were clearly on the porch with the dog for the purposes of gathering evidence of a crime.

The Court took addressed the long-standing precedent that the curtilage surrounding a house, which would include the porch, is subject to the same protections as the home itself. The Court noted that the right to be free of unreasonable intrusions on the home would be rendered meaningless “if the State‘s agents could stand in a home‘s porch or side garden and trawl for evidence with impunity…”

Having found that the porch area was a constitutionally protected area, the Court turned to the determination of whether the investigation was “an unlicensed physical intrusion.” The Court found that it did.

In addressing this issue, the court discussed the customs of an invitation to approach and knock on a door. The Court stated that the police had the same rights to do this as any member of the public.

However, the police exceeded that right by conducting an uninvited search of the premises from the porch. Neither the public nor the police possess such a right. The Court stated it quite succinctly, “the background social norms that invite a visitor to the front door do not invite him there to conduct a search.”

In sum, the fact that the police gathered the evidence by an unlawful and uninvited intrusion was enough to constitute a search. Because the search was conducted on constitutionally protected property, the search was unlawful under the 4th Amendment.


Related Reading:
Proof of Reliability of Narcotics Sniffing Dogs in Traffic-Stop Searches
Warrantless Searches Reasonable Under the Plain View Doctrine
Plain View Exception to 4th Amendment Search & Seizure Warrant Requirements

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