Skip to main content

US Supreme Court Limits Front Door Drug Dog Sniffs

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #777)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

The US Supreme Court Tuesday ruled that a drug dog's sniff of a residence's front door is a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and that police must therefore obtain a search warrant before unleashing the hounds. The case was Florida v. Jardines.

While the high court has previously ruled that drug dog sniffs of vehicles stopped on the highway, packages at shipping centers, or luggage at airports do not constitute a search under the Fourth, it sets a higher standard for people's homes. When it comes to the Fourth Amendment, "the home is first among equals," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the 5-4 majority.

"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," Scalia reasoned. "But introducing a trained police dog to explore the area around the home in hopes of discovering incriminating evidence is something else. There is no customary invitation to do that."

The case arose when a Miami police detective investigating an anonymous tip about a marijuana growing operation had his drug dog sniff the base of the home's front door. The dog "alerted" on the scent of marijuana, and only then did police obtain a warrant to search the home. They then found 25 pounds of pot inside and arrested Jardines.

Jardines was charged with trafficking in marijuana, but the trial court approved his motion to suppress the evidence on the basis that the drug dog sniff amounted to a warrantless search. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the trial court, and the state of Florida then appealed to the Supreme Court.

The 5-4 decision sundered the typical liberal-conservative split on the court. Joining the conservative Scalia in the majority was conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, along with liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

In a concurring opinion joined by Ginsburg and Sotomayor, Kagan went further than Scalia, arguing that the drug dog sniff violated Jardines' reasonable expectation of privacy.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Justice Stephen Breyer, rejected the privacy argument and opined that the search should have been upheld.

"A reasonable person understands that odors emanating from a house may be detected from locations that are open to the public," Alito wrote. "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."

But that was the minority opinion. As of now, if the police want to use a drug dog to sniff a home's front door, they need to get a warrant.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Matt B (not verified)

It's a tragedy that even one of these treasonous fools we call the Supreme Court would sacrifice everything America holds dear to eradicate 1-2% of the cannabis plant supply.

This is not a victory until some of these supporters of tyranny are forced to step down.

Tue, 03/26/2013 - 6:38pm Permalink
budman (not verified)

It was "unamerican" when they put prohibition in place. It's my body and if I wanna do drugs, that's my right. I am a none violent user and I don't expose anything to anyone the would ruin their quality of life. Some things are not right for everyone. I should have to fear the pigs if I am not hurting anyone or affecting their life. Good call oldies in the supreme court. The end off the drug war is inevitable. It's just a matter of time. I'm ready Maryjane.
Tue, 03/26/2013 - 7:50pm Permalink
kickback (not verified)

This notion that a dog sniff is not a " search " is beyond the pale . If you have a dog , and the dog is sniffing for "something " , guess what ? , the dog is searching for something that has a smell and has the dog`s attention . K-9 handlers are known to be corrupt . Most K-9 cop`s wives have addiction issues . You do the math . To say that a dog sniff around the house is constitutional is pure treason to the Constitution . The " drug war " is a racket . A sham . A political joke on the public . Big Green Tsunami .

Wed, 03/27/2013 - 4:21am Permalink
mike dar (not verified)

What a great mechanism for 'officials' to have if the 'Sniff was allowed'. The 'opportunity of choice, placed drugs or weapons, would never need to used again. No longer would corrupt 'officials' have to risk having a 'baggie; or "throw down" in their pockets.

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 5:13pm Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.