Man’s Best Friend: a bad man’s worst nightmare

On March 26,2013, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case of Florida v. Jardines. The case has important implications and guidance for LEOs. As always, I encourage you to read the full opinion here.

The case involves a K9 visit to a home under surveillance. LEOs brought the dog to the home and onto the front porch. Once on the porch, the K9 did what he was trained to do: search the air around him for the presence of narcotics.  When the dog alerted on the front door, LEOs sought and received a search warrant for the home. Upon executing the warrant, Jardines was charged with trafficking in cannabis.

The USSC took the case to decide if the use of a K9 in this manner constituted a search of the home without a warrant. The Court focused on the location searched and found the use of a K9 to be far different from a LEO simply approaching the door to knock and make contact with the homeowner.  “The front porch is the classic exemplar of an area adjacent to the home and ‘to which the activity of home life extends.'” Therefore, the Court held that the use of a K9 on the front porch to search the air around and emanating from the house exceeded the normal entry onto the property by the average person and implicated the Fourth Amendment.

The Court stated, “An invitation to engage in canine forensic investigation assuredly does not inhere in the very act of hanging a knocker [flyer]. To find a visitor knocking on the door is routine (even if sometimes unwelcome); to spot 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.”

Finally, the Court held, “[t]he government’s use of trained police dogs to investigate the home and its immediate surroundings is a ‘search’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.” The good news is that the Court recognized the validity of the K9’s ability to accurately detect narcotics and found nothing wrong with the LEOs approaching the house to knock on the door in an attempt to speak with the homeowner.

Like every case, it is important to read the opinion and learn from it. The rules may change but the mission remains the same. Stay safe.

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