- Wednesday, 11 January 2012 13:31
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take a case out of Florida which asks the question:
Does a police dog’s sniff outside a house give officers the right to get a search warrant for illegal drugs, or is the sniff an unconstitutional search?
On the morning of Dec. 5, 2006, Miami-Dade police detectives and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents set up surveillance outside a house south of the city after getting an anonymous tip that it might contain a marijuana grow operation. The cops brought Franky, a K-9 drug dog . The dog quickly detected the odor of pot at the base of the front door and sat down as he was trained to do.
That sniff was used to get a search warrant from a judge. The house was searched and its lone occupant, Joelis Jardines, was arrested for drug possession
after trying to escape out the back door. Officers pulled 179 live marijuana plants from the house, with an estimated street value of more than $700,000.
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids government searches of persons and property without probable cause.
The U.S. Supreme Court has approved drug dog sniffs in several other major cases. Two of those involved
dogs that detected drugs during routine traffic stops
. In another, a dog found drugs in airport luggage. A fourth involved a drug-laden package in transit.
This Florida case is different because it involves a private residence. The high court has repeatedly emphasized that a home is entitled to greater privacy than cars on the road or a suitcase in an airport. In another major ruling, the justices decided in 2001 that police could not use thermal imaging technology to detect heat from marijuana grow operations from outside a home because the equipment could also detect lawful activity.
The court ruling from the case known as Kyllo v. United States states, “We have said that the Fourth Amendment draws a firm line at the entrance to the house.” The justices added that the thermal devices could detect such intimate details as “at what hour each night the lady of the house takes her daily sauna and bath.”
It’s well-settled that law enforcement officials can walk up to a home and knock on the front door, in hopes that someone will open up and talk. But if a person inside refuses, the officers must get a search warrant — and for that they need some evidence of a crime.
Our forefathers were very sensitive to the rights of individual citizens and eliminating illegal searches of their homes and persons. After all, they had just won their freedom from British rulers who would summarily enter homes and search, without any judicial process involved.
In this case, I am not sure why the cops didn’t get a search warrant anyway, if in fact they had reliable information that drugs were in the house. That is exactly the point of the 4th
amendment; it doesn’t allow lazy cops to circumvent our Constitutional rights. Let’s hope the Supremes make the right decision. Otherwise, keep a watchful eye next time you see a strange dog sniffing around your house!
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