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Supreme Court: Use of K-9 Outside Home Requires Search Warrant

April 1, 2013

In Florida v. Jardines, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that a law enforcement officer’s use of a drug-sniffing dog on the front porch of an individual’s home is a “search” under the 4th Amendment which requires the issuance of a search warrant.

In this case, a police officer, acting on an anonymous tip, approached Jardines’ house with a drug-sniffing dog who alerted to the presence of an illegal substance after sniffing around the base of the front door. Based on this evidence, the officer obtained a warrant to search the inside of the home, eventually discovering 179 marijuana plants.

His defense attorney challenged the legality of the use of the dog, claiming it was an illegal warrantless search under the 4th Amendment. The trial court agreed with his argument and ruled that the evidence obtained during the search would not be admissible at trial. The Florida Court of Appeals reversed the decision, but the Florida Supreme Court again found in favor of Jardines.

Upholding the Florida Supreme Court’s decision, the Court noted that a person’s 4th Amendment right to be free from government intrusion pertains to both his home and the surrounding area, known as the “curtilage.” Justice Scalia compared the use of the dog in this case to officers approaching the home and peering in the windows looking for evidence.

In the dissent, Justice Alito pointed out that many civil servants have the right to approach the threshold of an individual’s home, including mail carriers and police officers conducting investigations without the use of K-9 units. He also stated that individuals cannot have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the odors emanating from the home as these scents enter the public domain and can be picked up by either dogs or humans.

Nevertheless, the majority’s holding requires an officer who wishes to use a drug-sniffing dog on any portion of an individual’s property to first obtain a search warrant prior to conducting the search.

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