Search and Seizure: Florida Appeals Court Restricts Warrantless Drug Dog Searches 2/24/06

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The Florida 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in West Palm Beach has ruled that police must obtain a warrant before drug-sniffing dogs are allowed to search private property. In a February 15 opinion in the case of a Hollywood man charged with drug offenses after police without a warrant used a drug dog to sniff his front door, the appeals court refused to overturn a lower court ruling that found the warrantless search unconstitutional.

Rockland County, Missouri,
drug dog demonstration
In April 2002, police received an anonymous tip that James Rabb was growing marijuana in his home. They surveilled his home, then followed him when he drove away in his car and pulled him over on a pretext (improper lane change, going 40 in a 55 mph zone), finding a joint and two books and a video about marijuana cultivation in his car. When Rabb exercised his 5th Amendment right to silence, police arrested him for marijuana possession and returned to his home. They brought in a drug dog, who sniffed at the front door and alerted, signaling the presence of marijuana. Police then used the drug dog alert as well as the seized joint and grow literature as the basis for a search warrant that uncovered marijuana under cultivation.

At trial, Rabb and his attorney, Charles Wender, argued that the evidence from the home search should be thrown out because police had violated Rabb's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. Broward Circuit Court Judge Ilona Holmes agreed, throwing out the evidence.

"It would have opened the door to terrible civil liberties violations," Wender told the Miami Herald.

The state appealed, citing the US Supreme Court decision in Cabello vs. Illinois, where the high court held that a drug dog search is not a search. But appeals court Judge Bobby Gunther, joined by Judge Gary Farmer, held that Cabello did not apply to a home search because such searches must be held to higher standards than vehicle searches.

"A firm line remains at [a home's] entrance blocking the noses of dogs from sniffing government's way into the intimate details of an individual's life," wrote Gunther. "If that line should crumble, one can only fear where future lines will be drawn and where sniffing dogs, or even more intrusive and disturbing sensory-enhancing methods, will be seen next."

No word yet on whether the state of Florida will appeal the decision.

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Issue #424 -- 2/24/06

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Feature: The Olympics Meets the War on Drugs | Feature: Maryland Delegate Introduces Bill to Ease State Aid for Students Affected by Federal Drug Provision | Feature: From the East Bay, the Cannabis Culture Speaks | Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Ayahuasca: Supreme Court Okays Use of Psychedelic Tea in Church Rituals | Prohibition: The Wall Street Journal Wavers | Medical Marijuana: Illinois Bill Moving, Passes Senate Committee | Medical Marijuana: New Mexico Bill Dies in House as Time Runs Out | Southeast Asia: Drug War Success Means Poverty for Laotian Farmers | Canada: British Columbia's New Democrats Say Legalize It | Search and Seizure: Florida Appeals Court Restricts Warrantless Drug Dog Searches | Celebrity Mouth: Bruce Willis Declares War on Cocaine | Web Scan: Cannabinoids for Cancer Treatment, Perjury in Police Misconduct | Weekly: This Week in History | Job Opportunity: Community Liaison, PreventionWorks!, Washington, DC | Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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