U.S. Supreme Court Rules That Police Cannot Use Drug-Sniffing Dogs To Conduct Warrantless Searches Of Private Residences

On March 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court released a landmark decision in the case of Florida v. Jardines holding that police use of drug-sniffing canines to investigate a tip regarding a marijuana farm at a Miami, Florida home infringed on the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches.

In Jardines, a Miami police detective received an unverified tip that marijuana was being grown in the home of the defendant, Joelis Jardines. Based on the tip, police began surveilling the Jardine’s residence, but, observing no activity around the home and not being able to see inside the windows, approached the front porch with a drug-sniffing canine. After the canine “alerted” to the presence of drugs, the police applied for and received a warrant to search the residence. During the search, the officers discovered several marijuana plants, leading to Jardines being charged with trafficking in marijuana.

Prior to trial, Jardines filed a motion to suppress the marijuana, arguing that the canine investigation was an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The trial court granted Jardines’ motion and suppressed the evidence obtained during the search.

On appeal, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal reversed and the Florida Supreme Court quashed the decision of the Third District Court of Appeal, holding that the search was unsupported by probable cause, rendering the warrant based upon information gathered in that search invalid. The State of Florida appealed to the United States Supreme Court for review, and certiorari was granted.

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Florida Supreme Court’s decision, opining that the police had unconstitutionally intruded upon the curtilage of Jardines’ home. Curtilage is the area “immediately surrounding and associated with the home” and is considered part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes.

Justice Antonin Scalia authored a 5-4 opinion for the majority, holding, “[T]he government’s use of trained police dogs to investigate the home and its immediate surroundings is a ‘search’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.” Scalia continued, acknowledging that, under normal circumstances, visitors to a residence have an implicit license to “approach the home by the front path, knock promptly, wait briefly to be received, and then (absent invitation to linger longer) leave.”

Scalia reasoned that complying with the terms of a traditional invitation does not require expert legal knowledge and police may approach a home and knock because that is what a private citizen would be permitted to do. However, in Jardines’ case, the police went too far by introducing a trained police dog to explore the area around the home in hopes of discovering incriminating evidence.

As this blog has discussed before, recent decisions by the Supreme Court, including Jardines, have significant implications for criminal defendants seeking to challenge warrantless vehicle searches based upon canine drug-sniffs.

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.