FLA: State high court limits police dog use at private homes

FLA: State high court limits police dog use at private homes
miamiherald/ 4/15/2011 / By David Ovalled
Without a search warrant, drug-sniffing canines cannot be used at the front door of someone’s home, justices ruled

Police officers violated a Miami-Dade man’s right to privacy when they employed a drug-sniffing dog outside his front door without a search warrant, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Civil libertarians hailed the decision, while law enforcement said it would curtail their efforts to bust the marijuana “grow houses” that flourish statewide.

“It’s going to limit a tool we have in our arsenal of crime-fighting techniques,” said Miami-Dade Maj. Charles Nanney, of the narcotics bureau. “But it will not stop us from fighting crime.”

The justices ruled, 5-2, in favor of defendant Joelis Jardines, 38, who was arrested in December 2006 for trafficking in cannabis and grand theft.

“It’s wonderful to see that the high court recognized the importance of the Constitutional right to privacy that an individual has in his home," said his attorney, Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Howard K. Blumberg.

The Florida Attorney General’s Office said Thursday that it would appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Marijuana hydroponic “grow houses” have become big business in Florida, especially in Miami-Dade, police say. Last year, Miami-Dade police discovered 401 grow houses, seizing 30,967 pounds of marijuana.

In Jardines’ case, detectives zeroed in on his house after they were tipped off by an anonymous caller to the “CrimeStoppers” hotline. One month later, a slew detectives and agents went to the home.

Officers employed a drug detection dog, Franky, who alerted his handler to the smell of marijuana emanating from the front door.

With that, detectives secured a search warrant and Jardines was arrested. A trial court threw out the evidence seized inside the home, a decision later reversed by the Third District Court of Appeal.

On Thursday, the state justices drew a distinction on using drug-sniffing dogs in more anonymous situations, such as on cars at traffic stops, or on luggage at airports — both which have been sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice James Perry wrote that the large-scale police action, involving so many officers, amounts to a “public spectacle unfolding in a residential neighborhood” that causes “humiliation and embarrassment for the resident.”

For his part, Justice R. Fred Lewis wrote: “We as Americans have an unwavering expectation that there will not be someone, or something, sniffing into every crack, crevice, window, or chimney of our homes.”

But Justice Ricky Polston, in a dissenting opinion, noted that the expectation of privacy does not apply to a dog sniffing for contraband, and that the front door is also accessible to any visitor or deliveryman.

“Clearly, if other people can go up to the front steps, like the Girl Scouts selling cookies, where is the invasion of privacy with police dogs? I don’t see an invasion there myself,” said Jeff Meyer, publisher of Police K-9 Magazine, which filed a brief on behalf of the state.

In legal circles, reaction was mixed. Ted Daus, a Broward prosecutor that drafted the magazine’s brief, said the ruling did not apply to “an apartment or other temporary dwelling.”

“Under the court’s ruling, it seems if you have live in a traditional home, you have a higher right of privacy than someone who would be renting a hotel or an apartment or condo. I don’t agree with that opinion," Daus said.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office said “we respectfully disagree” with the ruling. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, in a statement, said the ruling “hinders law enforcement’s ability to protect citizens by identifying and arresting drug dealers”.

But Howard Simon, the executive director of Florida’s ACLU, said: “If your home is your castle, everyone’s castle got a little bit more secure today against government invasion.”