The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a marijuana grower's privacy rights Tuesday, when a majority of justices decided a Florida K-9's alert outside a home resulted in an unconstitutional arrest.
The court's 5-4 ruling in Florida v. Jardines marks its second K-9 search case this year. The case arrived after the Floriday Supreme Court ruled a narcotics search was "unsupported by probable cause" and that a person's right to privacy is strongest in the home.
In his majority opinion Tuesday, Justice Antonin Scalia ruled that law enforcement officers don't have the right to bring a K-9 onto a subject's porch to search for drugs. The ruling stems from a 2006 drug bust in Miami-Dade County.
Miami-Dade Police Detective William Pedraja had responded to a crimestopper tip that Joelis Jardines was growing marijuana inside a residence and stealing electricity. Detectives Pedraja and Douglas Bartelt, a trained handler, brought K-9 Franky onto the porch at Jardines' property. After Franky alerted, officers obtained a warrant and arrested Jardines following the discovery of more than $700,000 worth of marijuana plants.
Justice Scalia called the search a "physical intrusion" in his ruling, and said the area around a residence is protected by the Fourth Amendment.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the search shouldn't be considered a trespass because police have the same right to approach a residence as postal carriers or solicitors.
In February's Florida v. Harris decision, the court validated a K-9's alert at a traffic stop.
Editor's note: Look for a more detailed look at this case's effect on law enforcement in the May "Point of Law" feature.