Police who use drug-sniffing dogs as a search tool before obtaining a search warrant are in violation of the Constitution, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.
In a split 5-4 decision, the court upheld a ruling by Florida's highest court, which threw out evidence collected based on a drug dog's alerts. Citizens have a Fourth Amendment right to be free from the government inside their homes and on their properties, Justice Antonin Scalia said.
"The police cannot, without a warrant based on probable cause, hang around on the lawn or in the side garden, trawling for evidence and perhaps peering into the windows of the home," Scalia said for the majority. "And the officers here had all four of their feet and all four of their companion's, planted firmly on that curtilage — the front porch is the classic example of an area intimately associated with the life of the home."
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The Florida case that preceded the Supreme Court's decision involved Miami-area resident Joelis Jardines. In 2006, Miami-Dade detectives and agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration set up surveillance on Jardines' home after receiving an anonymous tip that the home was being used as a marijuana growing facility. A detective went up to the front door with Franky, a drug-sniffing dog, who immediately sat down, a signal that the odor of pot was detected.
The sniff was used to obtain a search warrant from a judge, and Jardines was arrested after officers discovered 179 live marijuana plants inside.
The dissenting justices — Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Justice Samuel Alito — argued that the court's ruling stretches the expectation of privacy too far.
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It's not trespassing when a mail carrier comes on a porch for a brief period, the minority said. And that includes "police officers who wish to gather evidence against an occupant," Alito said. "According to the court, however, the police officer in this case, Detective Bartelt, committed a trespass because he was accompanied during his otherwise lawful visit to the front door of the respondent's house by his dog, Franky. Where is the authority evidencing such a rule?"
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