The use of drug-sniffing dogs is quite common in cases where law enforcement believes that evidence of a drug crime is to be discovered. However, there are certain limitations on the use of drug-sniffing dogs around a person’s home. A case from the United States Supreme Court, Florida v. Jardines, demonstrates one of these limitations.
The Miami-Dade Police Department, along with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), conducted surveillance of Jardines’ home. Law enforcement believed that Jardines was trafficking in marijuana. While surveilling Jardines’ home, two detectives, one of whom was a trained canine handler, approached Jardines’ home with a drug-sniffing dog. The dog was trained to detect marijuana, cocaine, heroin and several other drugs. The dog hit on the scent of drugs after sniffing Jardines front door. The dog then proceeded to sit on Jardines’ front porch to indicate that the smell was strongest behind Jardines’ door.
On the basis of this, the detectives applied for and received a search warrant for Jardines’ home. The warrant was executed later that day, with law enforcement finding marijuana plants in Jardines’ home. Jardines was charged with trafficking in marijuana.
Jardines moved to suppress the marijuana plants on the ground that the canine investigation was an unreasonable search. The trial court granted the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Florida Supreme Court approved the trial court’s decision and the case eventually came before the United States Supreme Court. The question asked of the Court was whether the officer’s behavior was a search within the meaning of the 4th Amendment.
4th Amendment Search and Seizure
Before discussing the case itself, let’s understand what the 4th Amendment protects. The 4th Amendment provides that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” When “the government obtains information by physically intruding” on person, houses, papers, or effects, a ‘search’ within the original meaning of the 4th Amendment” has “undoubtedly occurred.” See United States v. Jones.
The 4th Amendment does not prevent all investigations on private property; for example, an officer may gather information in what is called “open fields” – even if privately owned – because such fields are not enumerated in the 4th Amendment. See Hester v. United States.
However, the home is granted the most protection from unreasonable governmental intrusion. Moreover, the area immediately surrounding the home – called the “curtilage” – is “part of the home itself for 4th Amendment purposes.” See Oliver v. United States.
Curtilage and License
Here, law enforcement engaged in a search and entered an area that is a classic example of “curtilage.” Thus, the officer’s investigation and search occurred in a constitutionally protected area. The next question is whether the search was accomplished through an unlicensed physical intrusion.
While law enforcement is not required to “shield their eyes” when passing by a home on public thoroughfares (e.g., sidewalks), law enforcement’s ability to gather information is greatly circumscribed when he or she steps off that area and enters areas protected by the 4th amendment. Officers are permitted to stand on public property and visual observe what is occurring inside a home, providing it is done in a “physically nonintrusive manner.”
Since the detectives had both their feet and the feet of their K9 companion squarely in a constitutionally protected area (i.e., Jardines’ property), the only question was whether Jardines’ had granted them permission to do so. Obviously, Jardines had not.
A license to enter property may be implied, such as when a salesman knocks on a person’s front door or Girl Scouts are selling cookies. Thus, a police officer without a warrant may approach a home and knock on the front door because any private citizen may do so. However, using a trained drug-sniffing dog to explore the area and discover evidence of criminal activity is not the same thing.
A license, whether express of implied, is limited to both a specific area and a specific purpose. Here, the behavior of the detectives revealed a purpose to conduct a search, which no reasonable person would believe he had a license to do.
Areas Where a Drug-Sniffing Dog Can Be Used
The State argued that the use of a drug-sniffing dog does not implicate any legitimate privacy interest. For example, drug-sniffing dogs can be used to inspect luggage at an airport and vehicles during a lawful traffic stop. See United States v. Place and Illinois v. Caballes, respectively. These intrusions are not considered searches within the confines of the 4th Amendment.
However, the Court viewed these as irrelevant. That the officers discovered information only by physically intruding on Jardines’ property to gather evidence was enough to establish that a search had occurred.
The government’s use of a trained drug-sniffing police dog to investigate the home and its immediate surroundings is a “search” within the meaning of the 4th Amendment. Since this search was unsupported by probable cause, the warrant that was issued was invalid because it was based on information gathered during the search.
Columbus and Delaware, Ohio Drug Attorney
If you have been charged with a drug offense in Columbus or Delaware, Ohio, contact Attorney David Johnson of Johnson Legal, LLC to discuss your case. An experienced and knowledgeable drug defense attorney in Columbus and Delaware, Ohio can help you fight the charge and achieve the best possible outcome. Call Johnson Legal, LLC at (614) 987-0192) or send an email to schedule a consultation with Attorney David Johnson.