Oct 3, 2013

Warrantless Search and Seizures: Florida vs. Jardines

In Florida v. Jardines, the Supreme Court ruled that a “sniff test” by a drug detection dog at the front door of a home constituted an unreasonable “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. In that case, the Miami-Dade police received a “crime stoppers” tip that Mr. Jardines’ home was being used as a marijuana grow house. The police set up surveillance outside of his home and brought a drug detection dog to the porch of his residence. Only after the handler of the dog notified the detective that the dog had a positive alert for the odor of marijuana did the detective obtain a search warrant.

Consequently, the police searched his home, discovered the marijuana plants and arrested Mr. Jardines. After being charged and convicted of marijiuana trafficking, Jardines argued that the sniff test constituted an illegal search without probable cause and thus the evidence should be deemed inadmissible. The trial court granted Jardine’s motion to suppress the evidence, but the Florida Third District Court of Appeal reversed. On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s decision, stating that the search was unlawful under the Fourth Amendment. The state appealed the case and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the case.

 The Supreme Court affirmed the Florida Supreme Court’s decision by a 5-4 margin along ideological lines. Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion for the court, joined by Kagan, Thomas, Ginsburg and Sotomayor. Justice Scalia’s majority opinion was focused on a citizen’s property rights rather than the right to privacy. The Court argued that at the heart 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 Court conceded that police officers have the right to engage a homeowner in a “knock and talk” for the purpose of gathering evidence without a warrant as homeowners have reasonable expectations that the public will approach their door. However, Scalia pointed out that homeowners do not license visitors to “explor[e] the front pant with a metal detector” or the police to “peer into the house through binoculars with impunity.”

The Court determined that bringing a drug detection dog onto a person’s property to obtain evidence without a warrant was an unreasonable search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Although the majority opinion did not address whether Jardines’ privacy was implicated by the search, Justice Kagan wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Ginsburg and Sotomayor, arguing that both his privacy and property rights were implicated. The concurring opinion analogized drug detection dogs to the high-powered binoculars referenced in the majority opinion and argued that where a device is not “in general public use,” and is used to obtain evidence in one’s home, it violates a persons “minimal expectation of privacy.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution defines the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures. If you have been subjected to an unreasonable search by law enforcement, contact Parnham & McWilliams today at (713) 224-3967 or visit www.parnhamandmcwilliams.com. for a free consultation. We are dedicated to protecting your Constitutional Rights.

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