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Drug dogs need a warrant to sniff at your door, Supreme Court rules (+video)

When police brought a trained drug dog to the outside of a Florida home to sniff for evidence, that violated the homeowner's Fourth Amendment rights, the Supreme Court justices said in a 5-to-4 decision.

Supreme Court rules on drug-sniffing dogs
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The US Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police violated the Fourth Amendment rights of a homeowner when they led a drug-sniffing dog to the front door of a house suspected of being used to grow marijuana.

In a 5-to-4 decision, the high court said that police conducted a “search” when they entered the property and took the dog to the house’s front porch.

Since the officers failed to first obtain a warrant from a judge before intruding onto private property, their search was unconstitutional, the court said.

“A police officer not armed with a warrant may approach a home and knock” at the front door, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the 10-page majority opinion. “But introducing a trained police dog to explore the area around the home in hopes of discovering incriminating evidence is something else,” he said. “There is no customary invitation to do that.”

The decision is important because it enforces what Justice Scalia calls the traditional property-based understanding of the Fourth Amendment.

Rather than analyzing whether the homeowner had a reasonable expectation of privacy, the property-based approach asks a more fundamental question: Did the underlying actions constitute a search.

“The basic rule is that a search occurs for Fourth Amendment purposes when the government physically intrudes for investigative purposes on one of the areas that the amendment protects: that is, onto persons, houses, papers, or effects,” Scalia said in announcing the decision in open court.

“Our later cases have supplemented this test, but the basic approach keeps easy cases easy – and by those lights, this is an easy case indeed,” he said.

At issue in Florida v. Jardines (11-564) was whether police acted properly when they led a dog trained to detect illicit drugs onto the front porch and up to the front door of Joelis Jardines’ house near Miami.

Investigators suspected Mr. Jardines was using his home to grow large quantities of marijuana. The drug-sniffing dog, “Franky,” signaled his handler that he smelled narcotics.

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