Can police have their K9 sniff at your front door without a warrant? Florida v. Jardines.

Are you expecting trick-or-treaters this weekend at your front door? But do you expect the police to have their K9 sniff at your front door for drugs? Would that be constitutional?

On November 3, 2006, the Miami-Dade Police Department received an unverified “crime stoppers” tip that the home of Jardines was being used to grow marijuana. On December 6, 2006, two detectives, along with a trained drug detection dog, approached the front door of the residence. The K9 signaled that it detected the scent of narcotics. With that information on hand, the detective applied for a search warrant, which was issued. The search was executed and drugs were found. Jardines moved to suppress the evidence seized at his home on the theory that the drug dog’s sniff was an impermissible search under the Fourth Amendment and that all subsequent evidence was fruit of the poisonous tree.

The Fourth Amendment protects the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures. We can discuss Katz and the reasonable expectation of privacy, but this case can be solved in a simpler way. The basic rule is that a search occurs for Fourth Amendment purposes when the Government physically intrudes for investigative purposes on one of the areas that the amendment protects, that is, intrudes on to persons, houses, papers, or effects.

There is no doubt that the officers physically intruded into an area protected by the Fourth Amendment. The area immediately surrounding the home which is called the curtilage has long been regarded as part of the home itself. The police cannot without a warrant based on probable cause hang around on the lawn or in the side garden, trawling for evidence and perhaps peering into the windows of the house. And the officers here had all four of their feet and all four of their companions planted firmly on that curtilage.

Full case here: Florida v. Jardines

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Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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