Florida says drug-sniffing dogs in front of private homes do not invade privacy

Tom Ramstack – AHN News Legal Correspondent

Washington, DC, United States (AHN) – The Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether a drug-sniffing dog that detects marijuana through the door of a house is violating the privacy of the homeowner.

Miami police say a dog sniffing the air outside a house doesn’t trample anyone’s privacy. It’s a matter of discretion for police.

The homeowner, Joelis Jardines, said the sniffing was a “search” that first requires probable cause to believe a crime has been committed on the site. Otherwise, the police violate the homeowner’s Fourth Amendment rights of privacy.

Jardines was charged with felony marijuana offenses but appealed.

The Fourth Amendment says that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.”

The case began Nov. 3, 2006, when Miami-Dade police received a Crime Stoppers tip that Jardines’ home was being used to grow marijuana.

Police went to the house on Dec. 6, 2006, with a drug detection dog named Franky. They observed the house for 15 minutes but saw no activity inside. They then stepped onto the porch with the dog and stopped at the front door.

The dog handler said Franky indicated a “positive alert” for the odor of drugs.

A detective noticed the air conditioning unit was running without stopping, which he said often happens in houses where marijuana is grown hydroponically under high intensity lights that create heat.

The detective then applied for a search warrant, which a local judge granted. Police raided the home and found marijuana. They arrested Jardines as he fled.

Jardines’s defense relied on a ruling in a 2004 federal case in which a judge said a police dog’s sniffing near a house was the same as searching the home.

For private homes, “a firm line remains at its entrance blocking the noses of dogs from sniffing government’s way into the intimate details of an individual’s life,” the federal court ruling said.

A trial court agreed and threw out the evidence against Jardines.

Prosecutors appealed to Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami, which reinstated the case against Jardines.

No warrant is needed for a dog to sniff around a house, the state appeals court said.

The court’s ruling against Jardines relied on a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said police dogs are trained to search only for illegal items, such as drugs. No one has a privacy right in illegal drugs, which means a dog sniff could not violate anyone’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Unlike wiretaps and surveillance cameras that capture all conversations and images on a telephone or a place being monitored, dogs target their sniffs only at illegal items, the Supreme Court said.

However, the Florida Supreme Court sided with the homeowner, saying a dog sniff of a house without a warrant is “an unreasonable government intrusion into the sanctity of the home.”

In the state’s appeal to the Supreme Court, Attorney General Pam Bondi’s petition says “Florida courts are now alone in refusing to follow” rules of law that would allow drug-sniffing dogs to be used without warrants outside private homes.

Without using the dogs, the state might not be able to get the evidence needed for a search warrant, thereby impairing the ability of police to enforce drug laws, the petition says.

In addition, dogs are low-tech aids to police that do not represent the same degree of intrusion as sophisticated electronic eavesdropping.

“Chocolate Labrador retrievers are not sophisticated systems,” the attorney general’s petition to the Supreme Court says. “Rather, they are common household pets that possess a naturally strong sense of smell … Nor was there a ‘vigorous search effort’ at the front door; all Franky really did was breathe.”

The Supreme Court could decide as soon as next week whether to hear the case of Florida v. Jardines.

Article © AHN – All Rights Reserved
About the Author

Leave a Reply