If you’ve ever worried about whether the U.S. Constitution protects you from a dog’s nose, there’s no need to fret: even a canine cop needs a warrant to sniff your front porch.
The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision on Tuesday that a police drug-sniffing dog picking up a scent outside of your home still constitutes a search for which law enforcement would have to obtain a warrant. The ruling may limit how police use animals‘ sensitive noses to detect illicit substances on private property.
The justices made their decision after hearing arguments in Florida v. Jardines, in which Franky, a Miami-Dade police dog, searched for marijuana in the home of Joelis Jardines. Jardines’ front door was closed and no search warrant had been issued. But when the chocolate labrador got a good enough whiff, he sat down at the front door, indicating that he smelled pot. Police felt that was good enough to obtain a warrant, and they arrested Jardines with more than $700,000 worth of marijuana.
In his trial, Jardines’s attorney argued that Franky’s sniff was an unreasonable search without probable cause under the Fourth Amendment, which made the search warrant invalid. Jardines’ motion was successful, but a Florida appellate court disagreed, saying that the sniff wasn’t an unconstitutional search.
But Jardines lawyers would not relent, arguing that because Franky smelled the plants outside the house, it was a violation of the Fourth Amendment protection. The case bounced between courts for years before landing in Florida’s Supreme Court, which eventually took Jardine’s side and ruled that the sniff was an “unreasonable government intrusion into the sanctity of the home.”
State attorneys last year filed to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, which handed down its ruling in a 29-page document. Justice Antonin Scalia led the majority opinion, which stated that a search did indeed take place when Franky smelled the marijuana. His nose was considered to be a detection device (citing Kyllo v. United States), which cannot be used by police to peer into the homes of private citizens without a warrant.
…A police officer not armed with a warrant may approach a home and knock, precisely because that is “no more than any private citizen might do.” (Kentucky v. King, 563 U. S.) But introducing a trained police dog to explore the area around the home in hopes of discovering incriminating evidence is something else…
Howard Blumberg, an assistant public defender in the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office, represented Jardines all the way to the high court through years of appeals. “I was very fortunate to have this case go all the way to the Supreme Court this one time,” he told TIME. “It was a very important decision for privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment for homeowners because now you have to go to a neutral and detached magistrate and get a search warrant to invade people’s privacy rights at their homes.”
Just one month ago, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded the constitutional search powers of police drug-sniffing dogs. In Florida v. Harris, the high court ruled that a police dog’s signal to his handler constituted probable cause to conduct a Fourth Amendment search. In this case, Clayton Harris of Blountstown, Florida, was pulled over by Liberty County sheriffs. When police asked Harris if they could search his truck, he refused. After police dog Aldo smelled a substance on the vehicle’s door handle, police opened Harris’ truck and found materials for making methamphetamine. Harris challenged Aldo’s dependability, and the court heard arguments on whether a “reasonably prudent person” would think there might be drugs in the truck based on Aldo’s alert. But Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her opinion that “a sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test.”
Despite Jardines’ Supreme Court victory, and all charges related to his arrest being dropped, he is currently an inmate in the Florida Department of Corrections system on an unrelated charge. Franky, who helped to seize as much as 2.5 million in drugs and $4.9 million in dirty money, retired last year after seven years on the police force and is living with his handler.