Civil Liberties

A Drug Dog at Your Door is a Search, Supreme Court Says


More detailed coverage to follow later, but some grand news this morning from the Supreme Court in its decision in Florida v. Jardines. From the opening of the decision:

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Police took a drug-sniffing dog to Jardines' front porch, where the dog gave a positive alert for narcotics. Based on the alert, the officers obtained a warrant for a search, which revealed marijuana plants;

Jardines was charged with trafficking in cannabis. The Supreme Court of Florida approved the trial court's decision to suppress the evidence, holding that the officers had engaged in a Fourth Amendment search unsupported by probable cause. 

Held: The investigation of Jardines' home was a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

(a) When "the Government obtains information by physically intruding" on persons, houses, papers, or effects, "a 'search' within theoriginal meaning of the Fourth Amendment" has "undoubtedly occurred."….

(b) At the Fourth Amendment's "very core" stands "the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion." ….The area "immediately surrounding and associated with the home"—the curtilage—is "part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes."…

The officers entered the curtilage here: The front porch is the classic exemplar of an area "to which the activity of home life extends."

(c) The officers' entry was not explicitly or implicitly invited. Officers need not "shield their eyes" when passing by a home "on public thoroughfares," ….but "no man can set his foot upon his neighbour's close without his leave," …..A police officer not armed with a warrant may approach a home in hopes of speaking to its occupants, because that is "no more than any private citizen might do." ….But the scope of a license is limited not only to a particular area but also to a specific purpose, and there is no customary invitation to enter the curtilage simply to conduct a search.

(d) It is unnecessary to decide whether the officers violated  Jardines' expectation of privacy under Katz v. United States,

Opinion written by Antonin Scalia, joined by Thomas, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsburg. Dissent from Alito, joined by Kennedy, Roberts, and Breyer.

See Jacob Sullum in the March Reason for detailed background on this drug dog issue. Sullum on last month's crummier decision on dogs triggering searches in Florida v. Harris.