SCOTUS: No sniffs without a warrant

The Court ruled police need a warrant to investigate private property and its surroundings with sniffer dogs

Topics: police dogs, SCOTUS, Privacy, Warrant, Drugs, sniffer dogs,

SCOTUS: No sniffs without a warrant (Credit: Shutterstock/ Ruben Paz)

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police could only use sniffer dogs to investigate a property and its surroundings if they first obtained a warrant. “A police officer not armed with a warrant may approach a home and knock, precisely because that is no more than any private citizen might do,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the 5-4 majority decision.

The decision upheld a 2011 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court suppressing evidence uncovered at Joelis Jardines’ home with the help of Franky, a chocolate Labrador retriever with a strong record of sniffing out drug stashes. The Economist explained the justices’ reasoning, the decision and its relevance to privacy laws more broadly:



“The home”, Justice Scalia wrote in the Court’s opinion, “is first among equals”, and for fourth-amendment purposes the curtilage is part of the home. The police need not divert their gaze from private homes as they walk down the street, and they can even knock on the front door and ask questions, just as anyone else might do. But they cannot bring drug-sniffing dogs onto the porch without invitation or a warrant. This distinction, Justice Scalia notes, “does not require fine-grained legal knowledge; it is generally managed without incident by the Nation’s Girl Scouts and trick-or-treaters.” Justice Kagan wrote a similarly plain-spoken concurrence. The police bringing a drug-sniffing dog onto the porch uninvited and unwarranted is as much a trespass as a stranger walking up to your front door, not knocking or saying hello, and peering through your window with high-powered binoculars. Justices Alito, Roberts, Kennedy and Breyer dissented, arguing that the majority’s definition of trespass is unsupported in precedent, and that “odors emanating from a house may be detected from locations that are open to the public”. That the member of the public detecting those odors happened to be a dog rather than a human was neither here nor there.

Civil-libertarians will rightly celebrate this decision, but it deserves only two cheers. It pertains strictly to physical property, and to domestic physical property (ie, the home), which as Justice Scalia noted already enjoys strong fourth-amendment protection. The third cheer will come when the Court extends similarly robust protection to data and metadata. That, alas, still seems a long way off.

 

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Api Étoile

    Like little stars.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Calville Blanc

    World's best pie apple. Essential for Tarte Tatin. Has five prominent ribs.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Chenango Strawberry

    So pretty. So early. So ephemeral. Tastes like strawberry candy (slightly).

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Chestnut Crab

    My personal fave. Ultra-crisp. Graham cracker flavor. Should be famous. Isn't.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    D'Arcy Spice

    High flavored with notes of blood orange and allspice. Very rare.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Esopus Spitzenberg

    Jefferson's favorite. The best all-purpose American apple.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Granite Beauty

    New Hampshire's native son has a grizzled appearance and a strangely addictive curry flavor. Very, very rare.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Hewes Crab

    Makes the best hard cider in America. Soon to be famous.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Hidden Rose

    Freak seedling found in an Oregon field in the '60s has pink flesh and a fragrant strawberry snap. Makes a killer rose cider.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Knobbed Russet

    Freak city.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Newtown Pippin

    Ben Franklin's favorite. Queen Victoria's favorite. Only apple native to NYC.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Pitmaston Pineapple

    Really does taste like pineapple.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>