Jardines v. State Of Florida: SCOTUS Rules Using Drug-Sniffing Dogs Needs a Warrant


The Supreme Court of the United States ruled on March 26 that police are only allowed to use drug-sniffing dogs to investigate a suspect’s property with a warrant. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the 5-4 split decision that puts limitations on how investigators will utilize dogs' sensitive noses to search items hidden from human sight, stating, "a police officer not armed with a warrant may approach a home and knock, precisely because that is no more than any private citizen might do."

Justice Scalia further claims that, "the police cannot, without a warrant based on probable cause, hang around on the lawn or in the side garden, trawling for evidence and perhaps peering into the windows of the home." He explains that the Fourth Amendment right protects citizens from the government infiltrating their home and the surrounding property, referred to as "curtilage."

This majority decision upholds the Florida Supreme Court ruling regarding Miami resident Joelis Jardines, where a drug dog alerted police forces of suspicious activity from outside the closed front entrance but all evidence seized in the search was discarded. 

Justice Scalia asserts that, "the officers here had all four of their feet and all four of their companion’s, planted firmly on that curtilage the front porch is the classic example of an area intimately associated with the life of the home." Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bade Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan all voted with Scalia to defend this decision.

Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Justice Samuel Alito were the four that voted in opposition. 

Justice Alito maintains that, "the police officer in this case, Detective Bartelt, committed a trespass because he was accompanied during his otherwise lawful visit to the front door of the respondent’s house by his dog. Where is the authority evidencing such a rule?"

He further comments that this ruling extends confidentiality and privacy expectations. "A reasonable person understands that odors emanating from a house may be detected from locations that are open to the public, 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."

Justice Scalia disagrees with this view, stating, "the dissent would let the police do whatever they want by way of gathering evidence so long as they stay on the base path, to use a baseball analogy so long as they 'stick to the path that is typically used to approach a front door, such as a paved walkway.' From that vantage point they can presumably peer into the house with binoculars with impunity. That is not the law, as even the state concedes."