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Top US court to hear case on drug-sniffing dogs

07 january 2012, 19:03
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A Police sniffing dog. ©REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
A Police sniffing dog. ©REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
The US Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a case to determine whether the use of police dogs sniffing for drugs outside homes is a violation of the constitutional rights of the residents, AFP reports.

The case involves a Miami homeowner accused of growing marijuana in his house, who contends the dog's sniffing on his porch was the same as an illegal "search" of his home.

The Fourth Amendment requires police to present evidence to a judge that a crime has occurred, then obtain a warrant before they can search a home.

Miami-Dade police had no search warrant before Franky the dog signaled to his handler that he detected marijuana at the home of Joelis Jardines in December 2006.

Instead, they used Franky's signal of sitting down as the primary evidence to obtain a warrant.

A subsequent police search found 179 marijuana plants in a hydroponic lab in the house. Jardines was arrested as he tried to flee out the back door.

The trial judge dismissed the evidence against Jardines, saying it was obtained through illegal search and seizure. A state appeals court reversed the ruling and reinstated marijuana charges against Jardines.

The Florida Supreme Court threw out the case again last April, saying lax restrictions on use of police dogs could lead to widespread abuse of homeowners' privacy.

"There is simply nothing to prevent (police) agents from applying the procedure in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner, or based on whim and fancy, at the home of any citizen," the Florida Supreme Court majority opinion said.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi appealed to the US Supreme Court.

Bondi argues in her legal filings that a dog breathing air outside a home is not the same as a search.

She also says a ruling that deprives police of using drug-sniffing dogs to gather evidence would seriously interfere with law enforcement.

"And most importantly, the Florida Supreme Court's decision strips law enforcement of an irreplaceable tool in detecting those who grow marijuana in their living rooms; construct meth labs in their kitchens; hide bodies in their basements; or make bombs in their garages," Bondi's petition says.

"Dogs can detect all these activities by the simple act of breathing."

Eighteen states and the territory of Guam filed briefs to support Bondi's petition.

The Supreme Court has traditionally held that homes are entitled to greater privacy rights than public spaces or automobiles when police use dogs to search for illegal activity.

The justices are likely to issue a ruling by June.


By Tom Ramstack

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