Drug-Sniffing Dogs, Part 1: Supreme Court Reviews Whether They Violate Fourth Amendment Rights

February 7, 2013

Tire_jump_Labrador_retriever.jpgTwo cases before the U.S. Supreme Court last fall presented the question of whether drug-sniffing dogs violate defendants' Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. The Court heard both cases at the end of October 2012. One case involved the use of a drug-sniffing dog outside a suspect's house and whether police violated the Fourth Amendment by taking the dog onto the front porch without a warrant. The other case involved the search of a vehicle and asks what evidence the state must produce to establish the dog's reliability. Aside from questions of privacy rights, recent research has called the reliability of drug dogs into question, with reports of false positives from dogs that were eager to please their handlers.

In Florida v. Jardines, No. 11-564, the Miami-Dade Police Department received a tip that Joelis Jardines was growing marijuana in his house. Officers, including a drug task force and a canine unit with a chocolate Labrador named Franky, went to Jardines' house on December 6, 2006. The canine officer led Franky up the sidewalk to the front porch of the house, followed by another detective. Franky allegedly alerted to the front door. The dog and his handler left, and the other detective knocked on the front door. Receiving no response, the detective allegedly smelled marijuana and saw other signs he interpreted as evidence of a grow house. While the task force waited nearby, the detective went to get a search warrant. Upon execution of the warrant, the officers found marijuana in the house.

Jardines moved successfully to suppress the evidence obtained from the search, but the district court reversed the suppression. The Florida Supreme Court overturned the district court's ruling on Fourth Amendment grounds, Jardines v. Florida, 73 So.3d 34 (Fla. 2011), finding that the canine unit intruded into the private portion of Jardines' property without probable cause.

The use of a drug-sniffing dog during a traffic stop is the subject of Florida v. Harris, No. 11-817. A Liberty County sheriff's deputy stopped a vehicle driven by Clayton Harris on June 24, 2006, allegedly for an expired license tag. The deputy brought out a German shepherd named Aldo when Harris refused to consent to a search of the vehicle. Aldo supposedly alerted to a door handle, and a search of the vehicle turned up two hundred pseudoephedrine pills used in methamphetamine production, or as cold medicine. The issue, rather than reasonable suspicion or probable cause for the search, was Aldo's reliability at drug detection. Several weeks after this search, Harris was stopped again, and Aldo again alerted to the door handle. This time, no drugs were found. The Florida Supreme Court held that mere assertions of a dog's training or certification are not sufficient to establish probable cause. Harris v. Florida, 71 So.3d 756, 759 (Fla. 2011).

The State of Florida appealed both cases to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court heard arguments in both on October 31, 2012.

Michael J. Brown, a board-certified criminal defense attorney, fights for the rights of Texas defendants, making certain that law enforcement and the courts abide by all the rules and procedures of the criminal justice system. To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your legal matter, contact us online or at (432) 687-5157.

More Blog Posts:

Warrantless Blood Tests in DWI Investigations Under Review by U.S. Supreme Court, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, January 11, 2013

East Texas Town Seizes Large Amounts of Marijuana in Traffic Stops, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, January 1, 2013

No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy for Defendant Who Allegedly "Mooched" Off Neighbor's Wi-Fi Network, Court Holds, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, December 16, 2012

Photo credit: By U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Strang [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.