We published an article about upcoming Supreme Court cases affecting law enforcement last fall, and the Supreme Court has now ruled on one of those cases on March 26. The facts of the Jardines case are as follows:
- Officers from the Miami-Dade Police Department, acting on an unverified tip that marijuana was being grown at a residence, set up a surveillance of the home about a month later. After seeing no activity at the home, an officer and his trained narcotics dog approached; the dog positively alerted to the presence of drugs. Officers used this alert (and some other factors) to apply for, and obtain, a search warrant for the residence. When the warrant was executed later that day the owner attempted to flee and was arrested. Marijuana plants were found inside. At his trial he moved to suppress the plants and the motion was granted. The Appellate Court over turned that and then the Florida Supreme Court quashed the Appellate court’s decision, holding that the use of the drug dog was a 4th amendment search, unsupported by probable cause. The U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the case.
In a 5-4 opinion the Court held that the officers and the dog clearly intruded upon the property. The Court distinguished this from the situation where an officer walks up to a residence (without a warrant) and knocks. The Court held “We have accordingly recognized that the knocker on the front door is treated as an invitation or license to attempt an entry, justifying ingress to the home by solicitors, hawkers, and peddlers of all kinds. But introducing a trained police dog to explore the area around the home in hopes of discovering incriminating evidence is something else.” The Court held that the “government’s use of trained police dogs to investigate the home and its immediate surroundings is a ‘search’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.” This affirms the decision of the Florida Supreme Court.
If officers are entering the premises for any reason other than to ask a question or seek information, this is what they will now face. This opinion leaves open many questions about how law enforcement can now approach homes without a warrant. This opinion was written by the same Justice (Justice Scalia) who wrote the opinion in the Jones case last year holding that tracking an automobile’s whereabouts using a GPS device place on the subject’s vehicle is a Fourth Amendment search.