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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > April 2013 > Florida v. Jardines, U.S. Supreme Court, March 26, 2013

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Florida v. Jardines, U.S. Supreme Court, March 26, 2013

Question: Can peace officers use a drug-detection dog when entering the curtilage of a person’s home?
Quick Answer: 
No. It’s unconstitutional to approach the curtilage of a home with any law enforcement tool with the intent to investigate for evidence of a crime.
Facts: After a detective received an unverified tip that Joelis Jardines was growing marijuana in his home, the detective’s police department and the DEA set up surveillance of Jardines’ house. The detective surveilled the home for 15 minutes, saw nothing suspicious, and then walked up to the house along with another detective and a drug-detection dog. The second detective kept the dog on a six-foot leash, and as the detectives and dog approached the front porch, the dog began “bracketing,” pacing back and forth quickly over a 6-foot radius, in an attempt to locate the source of the odor he smelled. The dog sat near the bottom of the home’s front door, alerting to the strongest source of the odor. The dog sniff lasted about one to two minutes, and once the dog alerted to the front door, the detectives and dog walked back to the cruisers and left the scene. The detectives used the dog’s alert, along with the earlier tip they received, to obtain a search warrant. The officers executed the warrant later that day, finding marijuana plants. Jardines moved to suppress the evidence, claiming that using the drug dog to investigate was an unreasonable search.
Why this case is important: The officers’ conduct violated the Fourth Amendment because they trespassed. The Supreme Court explained that when the detectives approached the front porch with their drug dog, they physically trespassed onto the home’s curtilage (the land that immediately surrounds a house and receives the same constitutional protections as the home).
It’s important to distinguish between what the officers did here and a “knock and talk.” In a knock and talk, an officer simply knocks on the door and tries to start a voluntary conversation with the occupant. This is no different than an ordinary visitor or door-to-door salesman would do. In this case, the officers approached with a drug-sniffing dog trying to find incriminating evidence. A typical visitor or salesman would not bring a drug-sniffing dog to search the premises before entering. The same could be said for other law enforcement tools (infrared binoculars, thermal imaging device, etc.) because a homeowner would not reasonably expect a member of the general public to be on their property using them. 
Keep in mind: This decision basically prohibits peace officers from taking a drug-detection dog (or any other law enforcement evidence-gathering tool) directly on the property immediately around a person’s home without a warrant. It doesn’t change an officer’s opportunity to conduct a true “knock and talk.”
Visit the U.S. Supreme Court’s website to view the entire opinion.