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The Florida Supreme Court, in a 5-2 opinion, recently ruled that a warrantless “sniff test” by a drug detection dog at the front door of a private residence was an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. In 2006, police received an anonymous tip that a private home was being used to grow marijuana. Acting without a warrant, police showed up at the residence with a drug detection dog and walked the dog up to the front door where the dog alerted to the presence of narcotics. An officer at the door also smelled marijuana. The police then left the residence and obtained a search warrant based on the dog’s alert and the officer’s observations. Police returned to the home with the warrant and searched the home finding marijuana plants inside. Before trial, the defendant’s criminal defense lawyer moved to suppress the evidence seized from the home, claiming that the search warrant was invalid because the initial “sniff test” was unconstitutional. The trial court agreed and suppressed the evidence but the government appealed.

In ruling in favor of the defense, the court distinguished prior U.S. Supreme Court cases which upheld the use of drug dog “sniff tests” in other settings such as airport luggage screenings and exterior vehicle alerts at checkpoints and lawful traffic stops. The court found that the use of such tests at a private residence warranted a higher level of scrutiny since the home enjoys special protection under the Fourth Amendment.