U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Florida Drug Dog Sniff Decision As Unconstitutional 4th Amendment Search

The United States Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the appellate court decision in Florida v. Jardines, suppressing the evidence seized when police used a drug-sniffing dog outside a house being used to grow marijuana. Florida v. Jardines, involved the defendant being arrested for marijuana cultivation after police brought a drug dog to defendant’s door without a search warrant, then returned with a search warrant after the drug dog alerted the authorities of drugs.

At all points throughout the case, the state of Florida appealed the Florida Supreme Court decision holding that the drug dog search was illegal, because it was a warrantless search of a home.

Florida v. Jardines an issue of whether homes are subject to a higher Fourth Amendment standard than automobiles in traffic, luggage being sniffed on a conveyer belt, packages being sniffed at a package delivery service, or other moving or movable objects. The Supreme Court has upheld the warrantless use of drug dogs in those cases, but have granted greater protections to the privacy of the home, prohibiting police from using such measures as thermal imaging equipment to detect drug grow operations.

The courts have determined that one does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in contraband. However, warrantless intrusion via listening devices, thermal imaging, and now drug dog sniffs, has been found to require a warrant in order to be conducted. The problem with cases like these involving drug dog sniffs is the reliability of the sniff. Drug dogs, even though specially trained for a purpose, are still dogs. Dogs get excited and will alert to things like tennis balls in trunks and animals in the vicinity. Even highly trained drug dogs still only smell “contraband”. This does not necessarily mean that drugs are present. Faint odors may remain when no contraband exists. Legal Incense is sold that smells like marijuana. A drug dog will alert falsely and police will invade because of legal activity like burning incense that causes a legal smell.

The Court must consider the totality of the circumstances in determining whether probable cause to conduct a warrantless search is sufficient, and any fact that bears on a dog’s reliability as a detector of the presence of drugs will come within the review of the courts.
Furthermore, the location of the search is crucial to whether the search is legal under the 4th Amendment. Under the 4th amendment, if the police have exigent circumstances, or circumstances that would show that evidence of criminal activity could be removed or destroyed quickly, the police may conduct a search without a warrant. However, one has a reasonable expectation of privacy from government intrusion in one’s home. This means that police may not enter one’s home without a warrant if they do not have probable cause. In Jardines, the State claimed police had probable cause because of the police dog’s alerting to the smell of contraband. As discussed above, smell does not mean contraband.

In a case involving an illegal search of one’s home without a valid search warrant, a motion to suppress the evidence found is the only thing that forces law enforcement to adhere to the Constitution, by making sure that if the search is not done correctly, the evidence will be excluded, leaving the State with no case.

If one obtains an experienced Jacksonville drug crimes defense attorney to fight the case and ensure the illegally obtained evidence against one will be suppressed, limiting what the prosecution and police have access to, and possibly having one’s charges dropped.

The Forbess Law Firm has been aiding clients who face criminal charges in Jacksonville for years and are here to provide aggressive criminal defense to anyone accused of a crime. If you or a loved one require a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, contact our firm today. We are available through our website or by calling us at 904-634-0900.

Additional Source: US Supreme Court Rules Drug-Sniffing Dog Violated Florida Homeowner’s Rights, Evan Bleier, OpposingViews.com

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