Marijuana News

Florida Supreme Court rules warrantless front door drug dog sniffs unconstitutional

April 15, 2011   ·   0 Comments

(Herald-Tribune) Florida’s police cannot use a drug dog outside of a suspected marijuana grow house because it violates a Constitutional right to privacy inside a home, the Florida’s Supreme Court ruled today.

The majority wrote that, when there is nothing but an anonymous tip about a house being used to cultivate marijuana, the use of a dog equals searching inside the home. Drug dogs can be used after a warrant has been obtained using other information, they stated. The justices are worried about the ramifications. From the opinion:

Further, if government agents can conduct a dog “sniff test” at a private residence without any prior evidentiary showing of wrongdoing, there is nothing to prevent the agents from applying the procedure in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner, or based on whim and fancy, at the home of any citizen. Such an open-ended policy invites overbearing and harassing conduct.

This is a fantastic ruling and one that the United States Supreme Court should make.  I once lived in a county in Idaho where the sheriff thought it would be a good idea to patrol drug sniffing dogs up and down the parking lots at the mall and the hallways and common areas of apartment complexes.  For some reason, the plan was never floated to do the same at investment brokerage parking lots and the common areas of gated suburban communities.

But to the Supreme Court of the United States, there are no Fourth Amendment protections for people breaking the law.  Hiding contraband, the majority argues, isn’t subject to a reasonable expectation of privacy, and so long as their detection technology tells them nothing but the fact you’re hiding contraband, it’s all legal.  Justice Scalia and Chief Justice Roberts argued the point against Justices Sotamayor and Bader Ginsburg in Kentucky v. King, where cops smelled marijuana from behind an apartment door, knocked and announced, heard movement in the apartment, and broke down the door:

(Los Angeles Times) “Everything done here was perfectly lawful,” commented Justice Antonin Scalia.

“There’s nothing illegal about walking down the hall and knocking on somebody’s door, and if, as a police officer, you say, ‘I smell marijuana’, and then your hear the flushing, there’s probable cause,” said Chief Justice John Roberts.

Several of the court’s liberal justices, who grew up in apartments in New York City, expressed surprise.

If the court rules this way, “aren’t we just simply saying they (police) can walk in whenever they smell marijuana without bothering with a warrant,” asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “We start with the strong presumption that the 4th Amendment requires a search warrant,” added Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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