The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that will decide whether the practice of having police dogs sniffing for drugs outside of homes constitutes a violation of the constitutional rights of residents of those homes.
The practice of using police dogs to sniff for drugs in homes has been a controversial one. And the case in question involves a Miami resident who was accused of growing marijuana in his home. The homeowner contended that having police dogs sniffing on his porch amounted to an illegal search of his home.
The Fourth Amendment requires police to present evidence to a judge that a crime has occurred, and then obtain a warrant before they can search a home.
The Miami-Dade Police Department had no search warrant before its police dog signaled to the police officer handling it that it detected marijuana at the home of Joelis Jardines in December 2006. Instead, they used the dog’s signal of sitting as evidence to obtain a warrant.
Afterward, a police search found 179 marijuana plants in a hydroponic lab in the house. Jardines was arrested as he attempted to leave out the back door.
In an earlier action, the trial judge dismissed the evidence against residents, explaining that it was obtained through illegal search and seizure. A state appeals court reversed the ruling and reinstated marijuana charges against Jardines.
The Florida Supreme Court threw out the case again last April, saying lax restrictions on use of police dogs could lead to widespread abuse of homeowners' privacy.
"There is simply nothing to prevent (police) agents from applying the procedure in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner, or based on whim and fancy, at the home of any citizen," the Florida Supreme Court majority opinion said.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
Traditionally, the Supreme Court has ruled that private homes are entitled to greater level of privacy rights than public spaces or automobiles when police use dogs to search for illegal activity.
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