In The News

In The News

Thursday, March 28, 2013

United States Supreme Court Upholds The Fourth Amendment And Declares A Drug Dog Sniff Is A Search

By Michael Nichols
Categories: Josh Covert

In Florida v Jardines, Mr. Jardines was charged with trafficking in cannabis (marijuana) when Miami-Dade Police officers discovered several marijuana plants growing inside his home.  The whole ordeal started when the Miami-Dade Police Department received an anonymous tip that Mr. Jardines was growing marijuana in his home.  Eventually police officers investigated the anonymous tip by setting up surveillance.  After watching the home for 15 minutes and noticing no activity, the officers then approached the home.  Accompanying the officers was a drug-sniffing dog or as the courts called it a forensic canine.

The officers and their forensic canine gathered on Mr. Jardines’ front porch and the officers instructed the forensic canine to search the porch area and the front door for the presence of drugs.  The forensic canine alerted to the front door and was apparently alerting to the presence of marijuana inside the house.  The officers armed with this discovery proceeded to obtain a search warrant and eventually entered Mr. Jaridnes’ home and discovered several marijuana plants growing inside.  Mr. Jardine was subsequently charged with trafficking in cannabis.  

A motion to suppress the marijuana was then filed with the trial court on the basis that the search was unreasonable and in violation of the Fourth Amendment which protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizures.  The decision to suppress the evidence was appealed and the Florida Third District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s suppression.  The Florida Supreme Court then reviewed the appellate court’s decision and approved the trial courts suppression.  The matter was finally presented to the United States Supreme Court and oral arguments were held on October 31, 2012. 

The United States Supreme Court in a split decision, released March 26, 2013, declared that a drug dog sniffing on a citizen’s porch is a search as covered in the Fourth Amendment.  The court first discussed the importance of privacy in one’s home and called the home “first among equals” when applying Fourth Amendment protections.   The court also discussed the concept of curtilage.  Curtilage is a common law principal that provides constitutional Fourth Amendment protections to not only the home but also the area surrounding and associated with the home (i.e. a front porch).

Next, the court had to determine if the officers had a right or a license to be on the front porch in the first place.  It was discussed that in our country it is common place and basically a custom for people to have a right to approach a home, walk up to the front door, knock and then if no one is home to leave.   The court mentioned the girl scouts and trick-or-treaters as an example.  The court conceded that the officers did in fact have a license or a right to approach the home and knock on the front door.  When the officers extended their front porch visit and did more than knock they were unreasonably violating Mr. Jardines’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizures. 

“It appears that this case will be far reaching.  The court’s opinion isn’t just limited to drug dog searches.  The court mentioned metal detectors and binoculars as other objects that may put an officer’s otherwise lawful presence in violation of the Fourth Amendment” says attorney Joshua Covert of the Nichols Law Firm.   Covert continues “both this case and Jones, which was decided last year, are breathing life back into the fourth amendment which some legal scholars had previously put on life support due to years of judicial and legislative constraint”. 

If you are facing charges due to what you believe to be an unreasonable search and seizure call the Nichols Law Firm and speak with attorneys who understand the importance of the Fourth Amendment and who are willing to stand up and protect the constitution.  Call 517-432-9000.


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Mike Nichols is a national leader in drunk driving defense. He is a member of the Forensic Committee and Michigan delegate to the National College for DUI Defense. He is also a Sustaining Member of the College. Nichols is also a founding member of the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys; a member of the American Chemical Society; an associate member of he American Academy of Forensic Science, Adjunct Professor of Forensic Evidence in Criminal Law and OWI Law and Practice at Cooley Law School. He is also author of the West OWI Practice book and several chapters in other books on science and the law.

Mike Nichols is recognized by his peers in Michigan as a “SuperLawyer” in DUI/Criminal Defense. Nichols has also been asked to speak at conferences by groups such as the NCDD; Various Bar Associations in other states.