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David Rudoi Esq.
Jan. 18 2012

On January 6, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that it will hear Florida v. Jardine, an important Fourth Amendment case dealing with the use of drug dogs by authorities in procuring search warrants for homes.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that using drug dogs outside a home in order to detect whether marijuana was being grown inside the home, and doing so without a search warrant, amounted to an illegal search in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Miami-Dade Police Department, using the reaction of dogs as probable cause, obtained a search warrant and subsequently raided a marijuana cultivation operation, seizing 179 marijuana plants.

According to Florida’s high court, bringing a drug dog to a house’s closed entryway, and having that dog sniff to detect marijuana cultivation, constitutes in and of itself a search of the home. If done without a search warrant, they said, it also constitutes a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unlawful searches and seizures.

In a variety of cases involving traffic stops and airport luggage, the U.S. Supreme Court has in the past ruled that drug dog sniffs do not constitute searches. They have repeatedly found that citizens have no right to privacy in their illegal activities and that the dogs are only trained to detect such activity. However, the Court has also always held that constitutional protections are at their highest within private residences. In Kyllo v. U.S., for example, the Supreme Court found that the use of thermal imaging technology to detect grow lights used in marijuana cultivation was an unconstitutional search, because it would allow detection of other, non-criminal activity, such as the lady of the house’s bathing times. Still, the Supreme Court’s record of repeatedly finding that drug dog sniffs are not searches could give an indication as to their expected ruling.

Florida v. Jardine will be an interesting case for this current Supreme Court to decide. Will they continue to ensure that privacy rights within a home are protected, or stick with current jurisprudence which maintains that drug dogs can sniff anywhere that is accessible to the public?