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Florida high court limits police dog use at private homes

  1. Balzafire
    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.

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

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

    Officers employed a drug detection dog, who alerted his handler to the smell of marijuana at 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 of 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.”

    But Justice Ricky Polston, in a dissent, 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.

    Apr. 15, 2011


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