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U.S. Supreme Court to Consider Florida “Dog Sniff” Case

Written by Moses & Rooth on February 2, 2012

A Florida criminal law case involving a drug-sniffing dog will go before the United States Supreme Court. The rights of criminal defendants are at stake in the matter, which will determine when the sensory skills of a canine may supersede a person’s privacy expectations.

Marijuana Detected by Florida Drug-Sniffing Dog

The case arises from a 2006 incident in which police and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, following an anonymous tip, began watching the home of a suspected Florida marijuana grower. A police dog named Franky arrived with a police officer and indicated that the smell of marijuana was coming from the home. Law enforcement got a search warrant for the property based on Franky’s behavior, and police officers found 179 marijuana plants in the defendant’s house.

Ever since, the criminal case has wound its way through Florida courts. While the state argues that the warrant was legitimate because Franky’s alert to the police officer was valid, the defendant says that his constitutional rights were violated.

The Fourth Amendment’s Protections

The Constitution’s Fourth Amendment provides protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” In order to get a warrant to search a home, therefore, police officers must present probable cause. The warrant in this case was based in large part on the dog’s sniff.

At issue is whether using the dog constituted a search. If it was a search, then law enforcement should have obtained a warrant before allowing the dog to sniff for drugs, rather than using the sniff to get the warrant.

The defendant argues that a person’s home is a place where more privacy is expected than, for instance, in an airport. The Supreme Court has ruled that airports, cars and the mail are permissible areas for law enforcement to use drug-sniffing dogs without a warrant. The use of thermal-imaging technology, on the other hand, requires a warrant because it reveals much of what is happening in a suspect’s home.

The case, Florida v. Jardines, will determine important rights of criminal suspects for years to come.

Posted Under: Drug Charges

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