Was Franky the Dog’s Drug Sniff Constitutional? Supreme Court Takes Up Case

Jan 6, 2012 3:53pm

The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to take up a case regarding Franky the police dog and his drug-sniffing nose.

Specifically, the Court will review whether a dog sniff at the doorstep of a private home is a search under the Fourth Amendment, requiring a warrant.

In 2006 the Miami Dade Police Department received a Crime Stoppers tip that a man was growing marijuana in his house. A month later, a drug task force came to the house with its narcotics dog Franky.

When a detective took the dog to the front porch, the dog alerted for drugs. Another detective knocked at the door and smelled marijuana. The detective left the site to obtain a warrant.

After the warrant was obtained, the officers found marijuana in the house and arrested Joelis Jardines. But Jardines later sued, asserting that the warrantless dog sniff at his house violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Jardines also argued that the detective’s smelling of the marijuana was tainted by the dog’s prior sniff.

In Court briefs, lawyers for Jardines argue that Franky got “a little bit wild” outside the house when he smelled the marijuana.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled the sniff — without a warrant — constituted an unreasonable search.

The Court said, “Given the special status accorded a citizens home in Anglo-American jurisprudence, we hold that the warrantless ‘sniff test’ that was conducted at the front door of the residence in the present case was an unreasonable government intrusion into the sanctity of the home and violated the Fourth Amendment.”

In Court papers Florida Attorney General Pamela Jo Bondi said that the Florida Supreme Court had improperly relied on a prior Supreme Court case that found a warrant was necessary for the use of advanced drug searching technology in a home.

“A dog is a dog,” she writes. “Chocolate Labrador Retrievers are not ‘sophisticated systems.’ Rather they are common household pets that possess a naturally strong sense of smell.”

She also stressed, “The importance of dogs to law enforcement simply cannot be overstated. This Court should grant the petition and directly hold that a dog sniff of a house is not a Fourth Amendment search thereby restoring this valuable tool in the detection of numerous illegal and dangerous activities to law enforcement.”

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