Today, the United States Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments on two cases involving drug sniffing dogs. The facts of each case are different but the legal issues are roughly the same. What are the 4th Amendment limitations on the use of drug sniffing dogs?
On December 5, 2006 a “crime stopper” had tipped off the police that marijuana was being grown inside the home of Joelis Jardines’ home near Miami Florida. Armed with this tip, a police officer went to the door of the residence with a trained drug sniffing Labrador Retriever named Franky. Franky sniffed the door and sat down, continuing to sniff the bottom of the door. The dog had been trained to give that sign if it smelled marijuana. The police then obtained a search warrant of Jardines’s home and entered to find Jardines was growing marijuana plants inside the home and charged him with possession of 25 pounds of marijuana and stealing the electricity used to power the equipment used to help grow the marijuana. The Florida Supreme Court invalidated the search by finding that Franky’s sniff was an “unreasonable government intrusion into the sanctity of the home” and found that there was a greater expectation of privacy in a home than in a motor vehicle. The Florida Supreme Court cited a 2001 United States Supreme Court decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia in which the court ruled that it was presumptive unreasonable for the authorities to use a heat detecting device to scan the inside of a home to determine whether marijuana was being grown inside the home. The issue in this case is whether the police can use a drug sniffing dog for a residence like they did with the heating device.
The case is Florida v. Jardines, 11-564.
The other dog drug sniffing case being considered today involves whether a drug sniffing dog can be used for a motor vehicle. On June 24, 2006, a Florida police officer pulled over Clayton Harris’ pickup truck near Bristol Florida. The officer determined that Harris’ registration was expired and saw an open can of beer in the cup holder. He noticed that Harris was breathing heavily and would not give permission to the officer to search his car. The officer then brought out Aldo, a drug sniffing German Shephard for a “free air sniff” and Aldo became excited and sat down when he approached the driver’s door of Harris’s truck. The officer then searched Harris’s truck and found 200 pseudoephedrine pills and 8,000 matches, which are the ingredients used to make methamphetamine. The Florida Supreme Court threw out the search based on Aldo’s drug sniffing because they found that the state failed to show the dog’s reliability as a drug detector. The Florida Supreme Court found that the state cannot just claim in a broad statement that because the dog has been trained as a drug sniffing dog that it is sufficiently reliable and qualified to detect drugs and that the state needs to produce evidence to the court to determine that it is reliable. The question in this case is how qualified does the dog have to be to conduct a valid drug sniff?
The case is Florida v. Harris, 11-817.
The Supreme Court should be releasing it’s opinion by February or March. The increasing use of drug sniffing dogs makes this an important case and a much anticipated ruling by the Supreme Court.
James Dimeas is an award winning Chicago criminal defense attorney and author with more than 23 years of experience aggressively representing his clients facing criminal charges. If you have a criminal case in Illinois, contact me in Chicago (312-229-5500), DuPage and Kane (630-504-2096) or Lake (847-696-6458) for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.