A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

By Burt Rose

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The Supreme Court of United States decided the case of Florida versus Jardines, number 11 – 564, 2013 WL 1196577, on March 26, 2013. In this fourth amendment case, the opinion of the Court was written by Justice Scalia and joined by Justices Kagan, Thomas (you read that correctly), Sotomayor and Ginsberg. Justice Alito wrote a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Roberts, Kennedy and Breyer.

The issue here was whether using a drug sniffing dog on the porch of a homeowner to investigate the contents of the home was a search within the meaning of the fourth amendment. Justice Scalia observed that the police officers in this case were gathering information in an area belonging to the defendant and immediately surrounding his house — in the curtilage of the house, which the court has held enjoys protection as part of the home itself.  By gathering that information by physically entering and occupying the area in a way not permitted by the homeowner, the police violated the fourth amendment because the area immediately surrounding and associated with the home is considered by the court to be part of the home itself for purposes of the fourth amendment.

Justice Scalia wrote that there can be no doubt that a homeowner’s front porch is a classic example of such an area. Although a police officer may approach a home and knock on the door, like any private citizen can do, when he introduces a trained police dog to explore the area around the home in hopes of discovering incriminating evidence, or uses a metal detector for that purpose, he is conducting a search. Thus the act of physically intruding on the defendant’s property to gather evidence was enough to establish that a search occurred.

The grant of a motion to suppress by the state court was affirmed.


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