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Can Police Have a Drug Dog Sniff Front of Residence Without a Search Warrant?

In Florida, police often bring a drug dog to a traffic stop if they think there are drugs in the vehicle. The police are allowed to bring a drug dog to the scene of a traffic stop if they have reasonable suspicion to believe there are drugs in the vehicle and there is a brief wait for the drug dog to arrive or if the police officer is writing the driver a ticket for a traffic violation and the drug dog is brought to the scene within the normal time it takes to write the ticket. The justification is that it is not a significant violation of one’s privacy rights to allow a dog to smell around the outside of a vehicle. As a result, the courts in Florida are more lenient with drug dog sniffs and allow police to do them in more situations than if the police are opening doors or looking in and searching personal property.

In a recent case involving marijuana trafficking and electricity theft, the Florida police tried to extend this authority to the front door of a residence. In this case, the police went onto the property of the defendant and had the drug dog sniff the front door area without a search warrant or probable cause to believe marijuana or other drugs were inside. The drug dog alerted to the odor of marijuana, and a trafficking amount of marijuana was found in the vehicle.

The Florida Supreme Court found the search illegal. While the police did not enter the home, as in the drug dog cases involving vehicles, a person’s home gets greater protection than a person’s vehicle on the public roads. As a result, police are not allowed to go onto a person’s property with a drug dog and sniff the outside of the home without a search warrant. This was considered to be an unwarranted invasion of a person’s strong Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in his/her home or on his/her residential property.

However, the issue may not be finally resolved. The prosecutor’s office in Florida has asked the United States Supreme Court to review this issue, and if they do, their word will be the final word on whether police can go take a drug dog on a person’s property and sniff the outside of the home without a search warrant.