Last week the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion that clarifies a citizen’s Constitutional right to be free from warrantless searches. This is a victory for American citizens and their freedom from unwarranted governmental intrusions. The Supreme Court had already stated in Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 31 (2001) that “at the very core of the Fourth Amendment stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.” The question that was presented to the Supreme Court recently was whether it violates one’s Fourth Amendment rights when a police-trained drug sniffing dog is allowed to sniff around one’s home without a search warrant.
The case, Florida v. Jardines, began in 2006 when a DEA agent got a tip that Joelis Jardines was growing marijuana at his house. The agent sent more agents and a drug sniffing dog to Mr. Jardines’ house and the dog detected the odor of marijuana emanating from the home. It was based on the drug dog’s indication of a presence of marijuana that the agents were granted a search warrant to go inside the home and conduct a search. As a result, Mr. Jardines was charged with trafficking cannabis.
Jardines argued that the dog sniffing around his house amounted to a search of his home and a warrant should have been obtained beforehand.
In order for the government to search a home, it must first demonstrate that there is probable cause to think that there is something illegal inside. The government agent (usually a police officer or detective) will present all of the information he or she has to a judge or a magistrate who will decide whether the information presented is enough to reach the probable cause standard. If it does, then the judge or magistrate will issue the search warrant.
The argument that Jardines made was that bringing the drug sniffing dog to his home and letting him sniff around amounted to a search. The Supreme Court agreed. It reasoned that at the very heart of the Fourth Amendment stands the notion that a man has the right to go into his home and be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion. It went on to say that “This right would be of little practical value if the State’s agents could stand on a home’s porch or side garden and trawl for evidence with impunity.” The Court stated that an officer may approach a home and knock, precisely because that is no more than any private citizen might do. However, to introduce a trained police dog to explore the area around the home in the hopes of discovering incriminating evidence is something else. There is no customary invitation to do that.
This case is not a defeat for the police who are protecting our communities from illegal activities. It is a victory for our constitution.