Thursday, March 28, 2013

SCOTUS: This time dog-sniff violates violates rights

This week, the Supreme Court limited the ability of the police to use drug-sniffing dogs outside homes, according to Adam Liptak of the New York Times.

The case focused on a Florida police dog who detected the smell of marijuana outside a house used by Joelis Jardines. Based on the dogs's signal, the police obtained a warrant to search the house, and they found a marijuana-growing operation inside.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that as long as a drug-sniffing dog is well trained his performance on the job really doesn’t matter. The case, also out of Florida, found that police are not obligated to prove that their drug sniffing dog has a history of success in order to use evidence revealed through the dog.

In the present case, Jardines moved to suppress the evidence, saying the dog-sniff around his residence was an unreasonable search barred by the Fourth Amendment. The Florida Supreme Court agreed, and so did a majority of the United States Supreme Court.

The Majority opinion in the 5-to-4 decision of , Florida v. Jardines, No. 11-564 was written by Justice Antonin Scalia. He said the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches, is particularly concerned with the home and its immediate surroundings. Allowing a dog on a six-foot leash to roam outside a residence, he said, was “an unlicensed physical intrusion” that was different in kind from visits from, say, salesmen, Girl Scouts or trick-or-treaters.

“To find a visitor knocking on the door is routine (even if sometimes unwelcome),” Justice Scalia wrote. “To spot that same visitor exploring the front porch with a metal detector, or marching his bloodhound into the garden before saying hello and asking permission, would inspire most of us to — well, call the police.”

In dissent, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote, “A reasonable person understands that odors emanating from a house may be detected from locations that are open to the public,” Justice Alito wrote, “and a reasonable person will not count on the strength of those odors remaining within the range that, while detectable by a dog, cannot be smelled by a human.”

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