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Supreme Court to review use of drug-sniffing dog at the front door of a house

The Supreme Court announced Friday it will decide whether a drug-sniffing police dog at the front door is the same as an unconstitutional search of a home.

Miami police used a police dog named Franky after they received an anonymous tip in 2006 that Joelis Jardines was growing marijuana inside his home. As police and federal drug enforcement officers surrounded the residence, Franky and two detectives approached the front door.

Franky was “alerted” to the odor of marijuana and one of the detectives said he then smelled it, too. When no one answered the door, police used the information to get a warrant, found 179 marijuana plants and arrested Jardines as he ran out the back door.

The Florida Supreme Court agreed with Jardines’s assertion that the use of a drug-sniffing dog based on an anonymous tip was an unconstitutional intrusion into the sanctity of a private residence.

“To sanction and approve turning the ‘dogs loose’ on the homes of Florida citizens is the antithesis of freedom of private property and the expectation of privacy as we have known it and contrary to who we are as a free people,” Justice R. Fred Lewis wrote in concurring with the court majority.

Florida, joined by 18 other states, told the Supreme Court that allowing the ruling to stand would threaten a widely used drug-fighting tactic and that it conflicts with the high court’s precedents.

The justices have agreed that drug-sniffing dogs can be used in cases involving traffic stops and inspecting luggage and packages. But the Florida Supreme Court noted that a home is different, and that the high court had ruled against the use of thermal devices to detect heat that might be the result of marijuana-growing techniques inside a private home.

Florida v. Jardines , which probably will be argued in April, is sure to increase the fame of Franky, a chocolate Labrador retriever that has since retired from police work. The Associated Press has reported that the dog was responsible for the seizure of more than 2.5 tons of marijuana, 80 pounds of cocaine and $4.9 million in drug-contaminated money.

Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.

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