Warrantless Dog Sniffs in Drug Cases

Police conducted a warrantless dog sniff test by a dog trained in drug detection at Joelis Jardines’ home five years ago. The police had received an unverified tip that Jardines’ home was being used to grow marijuana.

Under well established constitutional law, the unverified tip did not create probable cause.

In December 2006, police went to the home, and observed it for fifteen minutes. There were no cars in the driveway, the blinds were closed, and there was no observable activity.

After fifteen minutes, a dog handler arrived with a drug detection dog. The dog and the handler walked to the door. The dog alerted to the scent of contraband. Forget for a moment that dogs are notoriously unreliable when it comes to drug detection.

The dog was considered reliable enough to create probable cause. The detective also noted that the air conditioning unit was running constantly – consistent with the use of hydroponic grow lights in a marijuana grow operation.

Based on these observations, police obtained a warrant, and conducted a search, ultimately charging Jardines with drug trafficking.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has adddressed dog sniff tests in three cases – U.S. v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, and Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405, it has not decided a dog sniff case in the context of a front door, warrantless sniff of a home.

However, in Kyllo v. U.S., the Supreme Court held that people have an expectation of privacy such that the use of thermal imaging technology, which is not typical in every day life, to detect a grow operation was clearly a violation of that privacy.

In 2011, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in State v. Jardines that the sniff test conducted at his home was in fact an intrusive procedure, and that since Jardines had an expectation of privacy, the warrantless search was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has granted a Writ of Certiori which means the case will be heard by the Supreme Court for an ultimate decision.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.