Along the way, Girl Scout cookie peddlers, traveling salesmen, neighbors bearing cockapoos, bloodhounds chasing Jack the Ripper and an imagined invention called the “smell-o-matic” made an appearance.
The court is reviewing two decisions from the Florida Supreme Court. In one, it threw out a truck search that came after Aldo’s alert that drugs might be inside. The makings of methamphetamine were found, but the Florida justices said the trial judge did not know enough about Aldo’s reliability to rule that the search was proper.
The other case — and the one that drew the more heated debate — was about Franky. Miami-Dade County police, acting on a tip, brought the dog to the front door of Joelis Jardines, whom they suspected of transforming his home into a “grow house” for marijuana.
After sniffing around Jardines’s walk and another area of the house, Franky signaled a discovery at the front door. The police used that to get a warrant to search the home, where they seized 25 pounds of marijuana and saw Jardines trying to escape out of a back window.
The Florida Supreme Court said the initial intrusion of the police and Franky onto Jardines’s front porch was a violation of the expectation of privacy a person has in his home.
Former solicitor general Gregory G. Garre, representing Florida in appealing the state high court’s decisions, reminded justices they had never ruled that dog drug sniffs were covered under the constitutional definition of a “search.” They reveal only contraband, which the Constitution does not protect, according to previous rulings.
But he quickly came under fire from justices worried about the sanctity of the home.
The objections came first from conservatives — Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy — and then from the liberal wing of the court.
Police are not allowed to go to the area around someone’s home to search for illegal activity without a warrant, Scalia said. “Why isn’t it the same thing with the dog?” he asked. “This dog was brought right up to the door of the house” in the hope of finding drugs inside.
Garre said a police officer — or anyone else — is allowed to go to someone’s door. “Going back to the common law . . . there is an implied consent for people, visitors, salesmen, Girl Scouts, trick-or-treaters, to come up to your house and knock on the door . . . ,” Garre began.
“Yes, but not implied consent for the policeman to come up with the dog,” interrupted Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “The only purpose of the dog is to detect contraband.”
Justice Elena Kagan noted the court has held that police cannot use heat-detection devices outside a home to indicate the presence of lamps used in growing marijuana inside.