Supreme Court Finally Sets Limit to Searches by Drug Sniffing Dogs

Florida v. Jardines

It appears the US Supreme Court finally got something right when it comes to drug dog searches.  This year the supremes decides Florida v. Jardines.  In that case Detective Pedraja in Miami received an unverified tip that Jardines was growing marijuana in his home.  A month after receiving the tip Pedraja decided to check it out.  He hung outside Jardines’s home and watched to see the comings and goings.  Another Detective, Detective Bartlett, showed up to help out Pedraja.  Bartlett is a trained k9 cop so he had his dog.

The Search

Bartlett took his dog up to the house with a six foot leash, gave out all the slack on the leash and let the dog to his thing.  The dog was supposedly trained to detect cocaine, marijuana, meth, and other drugs.  The dog sniffed the base of the front door and then sat down, which was the dog’s sign that he hit on something.

The Warrant

As a result of the positive indication that the dog gave, Pedraja was able to get a warrant to search Jardines’s home.  They executed the arrant and found marijuana plants growing in the house.  Jardines was charged with trafficking in cannabis.  Jardines moved to suppress the weed on the grounds that the dog sniff was an unreasonable search.  The trial court agreed, as did the Florida Supreme Court.  Surprisingly, so did the United States Supreme Court.

The Decision

The Supreme Court recognized the importance of the home and that it is protected against unreasonable searches and seizures probably more so than any other type of property.  The Court also recognized that these protections apply to the home’s curtilage, which constitutes its immediate surrounding.  Bartlett, Pedraja, and the dog all entered the home’s curtilage when they went up on the front porch.

The court then analyzed whether the detectives had “license” to enter on to the property.  The court recognized that there is an implicit license to enter onto property to approach a door, knock, and then if not invited in, to leave.  Police officers can knock on a private citizen’s door because that is the right of every private citizen.  The court distinguished introducing a trained drug-sniffing dog on to the property as “something else” because “there is no customary invitation to do that.”

The Supreme Court considered its own decisions allowing warrantless canine searches at airports, of vehicles in a traffic stop, and of a chemical substance that fell during transit, but the Court ruled that those cases did not permit a warrantless dog search of the outside of a personal residence.  Instead, the court compared the search to a recent decision in the Jones case in which the Supreme Court found that putting a GPS device on a car constituted a search based on the issue of property rights, not the issue of an expectation of privacy.  The Court, therefore, didn’t even address whether Jardines had an expectation of privacy on his front porch because he had a property interest and that was enough.  The search, therefore, was unconstitutional because it was done without a warrant.

Unknowns After Jardines

The question now becomes whether this decision will extend to other forms of private property such as storage units, lockers, rental spaces, and other forms of private property.  Jardines and Jones seem to suggest a trend toward protecting property rights more and focusing on property rights more than privacy interests.


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