• K-9 Searches
  • April 2, 2013 | Author: G. Ross Trindle
  • Law Firm: Best Best & Krieger LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • Overview: In a 5-4 decision,the U.S. Supreme Court this week ruled that a Florida police dog’s sniffing for drugs in front of a man’s home constituted an illegal search. Based on an unverified tip, police physically entered the property without the owner’s consent, but followed the customary pathways available to the public to arrive at the owner’s door. The drug dog “Franky” alerted and traced an odor to the front door of the residence and positively indicated for narcotics. The total time spent by the officers on the property was two minutes or less. Using Franky’s alert, officers obtained a warrant to search the residence and found marijuana plants, resulting in a conviction. The high court’s majority opinion found that the Fourth Amendment protected the home and its surrounding areas (“curtilage”) from this type of warrantless physical intrusion, based upon principles of trespass. The two uninvited officers and Franky violated these rights by “investigating” the constitutionally protected areas with the intent of discovering incriminating evidence. Therefore, the high court ruled, the marijuana discovered in the search had been properly suppressed by the lower court.

    Training Points: This decision changes the framework for the use of narcotics-detection canines. Although the full impact of this case remains unknown, it is clear that the use of drug canines in the curtilage of a home constitutes a search under the Constitution. Canines remain an effective tool for detection, but where in an investigation they can be used has changed. With warrantless dog sniff searches of suspected residences now prohibited, a “knock and talk” approach may be more viable as a basis for further investigation, ultimately providing sufficient cause for a subsequent canine search.

    Summary Analysis: In Florida v. Jardines, police received an unverified tip that Jardines was growing marijuana in his home. The officers approached the residence with a drug-sniffing dog that gave a positive alert for narcotics. Based on this information, officers obtained a warrant to search the home and found marijuana plants. Jardines was charged with trafficking in cannabis. Jardines argued that the marijuana should have been suppressed because the canine investigation was an unreasonable search. The Supreme Court agreed, finding that the police obtained information by physically intruding upon the curtilage of the home, a constitutionally protected area surrounding the home. The court stated that the “very core” of the Fourth Amendment protected the freedom from unreasonable governmental intrusion in the home, including the front porch. Police clearly violated these rights by entering these protected areas uninvited and conducting a canine search without a warrant.