WASHINGTON, March 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Tuesday that the use of a drug-sniffing dog outside a home is a "search" that must be supported by probable cause or a warrant.
"Probable cause" means police officers must have reason to believe a crime has been committed before making the search.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, backed up by the 14th Amendment, says: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Florida's Constitution reinforces that right in almost identical language.
In November 2006, the Miami-Dade Police Department received a Crime Stoppers tip that Joelis Jardines was growing marijuana in his house. A month later, a police detective with members of a drug task force that included several U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents conducted surveillance at Jardines' house.
A canine officer went up to the front porch with a dog, Franky, who alerted by sitting down. After the dog left, the detective knocked on the door to get consent for a search, without response. He did smell marijuana, court records said, and heard the sound of a constantly running air conditioner -- in the officer's experience, a sign of a drug operation.
The detective got a search warrant using the dog sniff and his own observations. The officers conducted a search and "seized numerous live marijuana plants. A DEA agent arrested Jardines as he attempted to flee through a rear door of the house."
Jardines was charged with trafficking in excess of 25 pounds of cannabis, a first-degree felony, and grand theft for stealing more than $5,000 in electricity from Florida for the grow lights.
The Florida Supreme Court eventually agreed that the search evidence should be suppressed.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia.
"The investigation of Jardines' home was a 'search. within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment," Scalia said.