March 27, 2013
The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that police must obtain a warrant before bringing drug-sniffing dogs onto private property.
In 2006, Miami-Dade police took a drug-sniffing dog to a home suspected of growing marijuana. The officers did not have a search warrant when they let the dog thoroughly sniff the premises. Based on a positive alert by their dog, the police then obtained a search warrant using the dog's nose as probable cause. The tenant, Joelis Jardines, was charged with cannabis trafficking.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the warrantless "sniff test" violated Jardines' Fourth Amendment rights and the evidence against him was deemed inadmissible and the case moved on to the Supreme Court.
In a 5-4 ruling, Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion that said "At the amendment's 'very core' stands 'the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion'."
"This right would be of little practical value if the state's agents could stand in a home's porch or side garden and trawl for evidence with impunity; the right to retreat would be significantly diminished if the police could enter a man's property to observe his repose from just outside the front window," Scalia added.
"We therefore regard the area 'immediately surrounding and associated with the home' - what our cases call the cartilage - as 'part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes.'"
The Court said that police are allowed to approach a home and knock on the front door as any citizen could, "But introducing a trained police dog to explore the area around the home in hopes of discovering incriminating evidence is something else. There is no customary invitation to do that."
"Was this activity a trespass? Yes, as the court holds today. Was it also an invasion of privacy? Yes, that as well," Justice Elena Kagan wrote a concurring opinion.
In a similar case last month the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that drug-sniffing dogs could be used to provide probable cause for vehicle searches. It held that a Florida officer had probable cause based on the field performance of drug-sniffing dog.
Incidentally, according to the Supreme Court it is not trespassing for police to walk around a vehicle with a trained dog on a public road, but it is trespassing when they snoop around your yard or front porch with a trained dog.