United States Supreme Court Considering Two Narcotics Dog Cases: Florida v. Jardines, No. 11-564, and Florida v. Harris, No. 11-817

Florida’s criminal appeals and criminal defense attorneys might like to know that on Wednesday, October 31, 2012, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in two cases involving the use of narcotics dogs, both of which originated from our very own State of Florida.  In Florida v. Jardines, No. 11-564, the question presented is “whether a dog sniff at the front door of a suspected grow house by a trained narcotics detection dog is a Fourth Amendment search requiring probable cause?”  In Florida v. Harris, No. 11-817, the question presented is “Whether the Florida Supreme Court has decided an important federal question in a way that conflicts with the established Fourth Amendment precedent of this Court by holding that an alert by a well-trained narcotics detection dog certified to detect illegal contraband is insufficient to establish probable cause for the search of a vehicle?”

According to a CNN report, in Jardines’ case, Miami-Dade police were acting on a tip when they went to Jardines’ front door with the drug dog, Franky, in tow.  The animal quickly responded, barking in the driveway, sniffing at the door, then sitting as he was trained to signal that drugs were nearby.  A detective testified he, too, smelled an unusual odor and noticed the air conditioning running continuously, along with the presence of moth balls on the stoop, used to mask scents.  The officers remained nearby on the premises while a search warrant was obtained.  Marijuana was found growing in the house.  The Florida Supreme Court overturned Jardines’ conviction, concluding the warrantless use of Franky was “unreasonable government intrusion into the sanctity of the home.”

In Harris’ case, after he was stopped by police for an expired tag, an officer brought in the drug dog, Aldo, who focused on the truck door handle.  A subsequent search produced 200 pills inside the vehicle used to make methamphetamine.  The Florida Supreme Court also reversed Harris’ conviction, finding that the dog was unreliable because a few weeks after the initial search, the man was again stopped in his vehicle and the dog gave a false alert.  The Florida Supreme Court concluded the State’s general assertion a dog was sufficiently “trained” and “certified” was not enough alone to establish probable cause justifying vehicle searches.

These should be some interesting opinions!