Supreme Court: Warrant needed for drug dog used on private property

Police officers in Miami, Florida, got a tip in December 2006 that a person was likely engaged in a marijuana growing operation in his home. An officer and a trained police dog went up to the resident’s front door, where the dog assumed an alert position indicating the presence of pot. That action was used to obtain a search warrant, with the result being that the resident was arrested and criminally charged with drug trafficking.

Wisely, as it turns out, his attorney argued that the search violated the Fourth Amendment as an unreasonable search and seizure.

The ultimate vindication for the man came just last week pursuant to a 5-4 ruling handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court after the case had meandered for years through various court levels.

Initially, a Florida state trial judge agreed that the search constituted an impermissible intrusion into the home. Subsequently, a state appellate court reversed that decision. The Florida Supreme Court then waded into the fray, reversing the appeals decision and siding with the original trial court.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that decision in a somewhat unusual ruling in which both ardent conservative and liberal justices alike joined

Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia’s opinion drew a strong protective line at the boundary of a home, which in the Court’s view includes the immediately surrounding area, known as curtilage.

Scalia was succinct in stating a directive for the police: Get a warrant. Without one, he said, officers have no right to “hang around on the lawn … trawling for evidence.”

Source: Associated Press, “Court: Drug dog sniff is unconstitutional search,” Jesse J. Holland, March 26, 2013