Miami Man vs. Drug-sniffing Dogs: Supreme Court is Getting Involved

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Has your privacy been invaded if police bring a drug-sniffing dog to your doorstep with no other evidence than an anonymous tip and without first obtaining a warrant? A Miami man who was arrested after a dog alerted to the smell of marijuana from outside his home is about to find out.

Proving this particular man’s guilt or innocence is not the only important outcome in this case. Even though the defendant Joelis Jardines was found to have 179 pot plants growing inside his home, his public defender will argue that the search was unconstitutional.

The case is expected to present a major decision on the definition of privacy. It could clear the way for police to bring drug dogs to a home with no other evidence of a crime or, as many law enforcement officials fear, it could stifle the use of the dogs which has become an important means of crime fighting. Jenn Meale, a spokeswoman for the Florida attorney general, said if the justices deem a dog sniffing a doorstop an illegal search, it will severely limit the resources police use to do their job.

The Supreme Court has a mixed history when it comes to search cases. It has permitted the dogs to be used at airports and traffic stops. Since the dogs are trained only to find contraband, the court has said their use is appropriately limited. However, in another case where two detectives allowed a dog to perform a sniff test, a subsequent search resulted with several hours of drama to follow. A tense scene occurred outside the home and sparked the Supreme Court to strike down the search.

Some experts see this case resembling previous drug-sniffing dog verdicts, in which the court has said a sniff is not a search. Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal, which ruled the sniff constitutional, found that a dog’s nose is not technology and stated that the dog and officer “were lawfully present at the defendant’s front door” – just as a visitor or salesman would be.

IMAGE: The Associated Press