The Constitutionality of Dog Sniffs

The legal (warrantless) use of dogs by law enforcement officials has long been defended by prosecutors on the grounds that he sniff does not reveal anything about the contents of the article or package being sniffed, just whether or not it contains an illegal substance.  The 4th Amendment to he United States Constitution protects citizens from illegal searches and seizures (i.e. warrantless searches).  Not so long ago, The US Supreme Court decided to review a controversial Florida case that involved the use of a dog sniff outside a person’s home without law enforcement obtaining a warrant.  The style of the case reads, Florida v. Jardines.  After receiving an anonymous tip that Joelis Jardines’ home was being used to grow marijuana, Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) officers conducted a warrantless surveillance of Jardines’ home. During the surveillance, a drug detection dog sniffed the exterior of the home and alerted to a smell of marijuana at the front door. Based on this positive alert, among other indications of marijuana production, the officers were granted a search warrant. The search confirmed that the house was being used as a marijuana grow house and Jardines was charged with drug trafficking and grand theft for stealing electricity. Jardines successfully moved to suppress evidence of the dog sniff outside his home by arguing that the sniff constituted an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The Florida Third District Court of Appeal reversed and held that the canine sniff was not a Fourth Amendment search. The Florida Supreme Court ultimately reversed the appellate court’s decision and held that a dog sniff is a substantial government intrusion into the sanctity of the home and constitutes a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The State of Florida then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court elected to hear the case and ultimately affirmed the Florida Supreme Court decision.  The US Supreme Court held, “The investigation of Jardines’ home was a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

When “the Government obtains information by physically intruding” on persons, houses, papers, or effects, “a ‘search’ within the original meaning of the Fourth Amendment” has “undoubtedly occurred.” At the Fourth Amendment’s “very core” stands “the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreason- able governmental intrusion.” The area “immediately surrounding and associated with the home”—the curtilage—is “part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes.” The officers entered the curtilage here: The front porch is the classic exemplar of an area “to which the activity of home life extends. The officers’ entry was not explicitly or implicitly invited. Officers need not “shield their eyes” when passing by a home “on public thoroughfares,” but “no man can set his foot upon his neighbour’s close without his leave.  A police officer not armed with a warrant may approach a home in hopes of speaking to its occupants, because that is “no more than any private citizen might do.” But the scope of a license is limited not only to a particular area but also to a specific purpose, and there is no customary invitation to enter the curtilage simply to conduct a search. It is unnecessary to decide whether the officers violated Jardines’ expectation of privacy.

It is important to note that this ruling only applies to dog sniffs outside the home and not to automobiles traveling on public highways and interstates.  If you should find yourself arrested for a drug-related offense in Illinois, contact a qualified Criminal Defense Attorney.

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