Supreme Court rules narcotics dog sniff at front door constitutes search

Supreme Court rules narcotics dog sniff at front door constitutes search

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday in Florida v. Jardines [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that an alert from a narcotics detection dog on the front porch of suspect’s house constitutes a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The ruling upheld the Florida Supreme Court [official website], which held [opinion, PDF] that evidence gathered pursuant to search warrant obtained based on the positive alert from a narcotics detection dog which was brought to the suspect’s front porch must be suppressed because the dog’s presence constituted a search. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia noted that the case was straightforward:

The officers were gathering information in an area belonging to Jardines and immediately surrounding his house—in the curtilage of the house, which we have held enjoys protection as part of the home itself. And they gathered that information by physically entering and occupying the area to engage in conduct not explicitly or implicitly permitted by the homeowner.

Scalia also noted that while visitors knocking on the front door were typically permitted by residents, the presence of “that same visitor exploring the front path with a metal detector, or marching his bloodhound into the garden before saying hello and asking permission, would inspire most of us to—well, call the police.” Writing in dissent, Justice Samuel Alito would have permitted the police activity, noting that it occurred completely within the path to the front door of the residence. The decision was split 5-4, with Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joining in the majority. Alito was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer in dissent.

This case follows closely behind Florida v. Harris [SCOTUSblog backgrounder]. In February the court ruled [JURIST report] that an alert from a well-trained narcotics detection dog certified to detect illegal contraband is sufficient to establish probable cause for the search of a vehicle, reversing the Florida Supreme Court. The decision in that case was unanimous.