WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court said on Friday it would decide whether a sniff by a drug-detecting dog at the front door of a private residence amounted to an unconstitutional search.
The justices agreed to review a Florida Supreme Court ruling that said such a sniff was a substantial government intrusion into the sanctity of the home and was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal by the state of Florida in the case. Florida argues police officers should not have to show sufficient cause and get a warrant before using a
drug-sniffing dog, a widely used way to find illegal drugs.
The Florida case is the latest in a long line of disputes about using dogs to find drugs, explosives and other illegal or dangerous substances. The disputes center on whether dog sniffs violate the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures of evidence.
The case began in 2006 when the Miami-Dade Police Department received an anonymous tip that Joelis Jardines was growing marijuana in his house. About a month later, on the morning of December 6, 2006, police detectives and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents conducted surveillance outside the house.
After observing no activity, two detectives and a drug-sniffing dog went to the front porch and the dog detected the smell of marijuana at the front door.
One detective knocked on the front door to get approval to search the house. There was no response and the detective then personally smelled the marijuana.
The officer also noticed the air conditioning was running constantly, a possible sign that marijuana was being grown inside. The detective used the information, including the dog sniff, to get a search warrant from a judge.
The officers found 179 marijuana plants, with an estimated street value of more than $700,000, and arrested Jardines as he attempted to flee through a rear door.
Jardines was charged with marijuana trafficking and stealing electricity needed to grow the marijuana. He pleaded not guilty and moved to suppress the evidence seized from his house on the grounds that the dog sniff violated his constitutional rights.
The trial judge threw out the evidence. An appeals court disagreed and ruled the officers and the dog were lawfully present at the front door. The Florida Supreme Court sided with Jardines and ruled that the dog sniff was an unreasonable government intrusion into the sanctity of a private residence.
Florida was supported in its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court by 18 other states. They said the state court ruling conflicted with U.S. Supreme Court precedent and threatened to jeopardize a widely used method to detect illegal drugs.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the case in April with a decision due by the end of June.
The Supreme Court case is Florida v. Jardines, No. 11-564.
Reporting By James Vicini; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Vicki Allen