U.S. Supreme Court Holds Warrant Required for Dog Sniffing on Private Property

On Tuesday, March 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Florida v. Jardines, no. 11-564, issued a 5-4 opinion, in which it ruled that police may not bring drug-sniffing police dogs onto a suspect’s front porch to look for evidence without first obtaining a warrant to conduct the search.  In this case, the initial suspicion was based on nothing more than an “unverified tip” that the defendant was growing marijuana in his home.

Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, focused on the physical nature of the intrusion.   “When it comes to the Fourth Amendment, the home is first among equals,” he wrote. The right to be free of unreasonable governmental intrusion inside the home “would be of little practical value if the state’s agents could stand in a home’s porch or side garden and trawl for evidence with impunity.” In this case, he noted that the front porch qualified as “curtilage” of the home, and that while homeowners, to some extent, have standing invitations to third parties to come onto the porch in order to contact the residents or leave packages or mail, there is no “customary invitation” that would allow police to introduce a trained police dog to explore the area immediately around the home in anticipation of the discovery of incriminating evidence.  He reasoned that, because a trespass on the curtilage had occurred, there was a “core” intrusion, and no need to go beyond that to determine whether the defendant had any additional “reasonable expectation of privacy.”  Justice Thomas joined in Justice Saclia’s opinion.  In a concurring opinion, authored by Justice Kagan, and joined by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, the other members of the majority found that the defendant’s reasonable expectations of privacy were, in fact, violated.

The dissent, authored by Justice Alito, contended that police had an “implied invitation” to be where they were, and with a trained dog, at the time the sniffing occurred, since they were really no different than any other potential houseguest or solicitor.

Fortunately, the majority saw a constitutional distinction.

The full text of the opinion may be found here.

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