Florida Court Affirms Questionable Basis for Search of Suspected Marijuana Grow House

In a recent trafficking in cannabis/marijuana case in South Florida, the police received an anonymous tip that a house was being used to grow marijuana plants. The police went to the suspected marijuana grow house to investigate further. It is clear that the police cannot search a house based on an anonymous tip of criminal activity. The police need to make their own specific observations that corroborate the tip. The police came with a drug dog. The two police officers walked the drug dog up to the front door. The drug dog alerted to the odor of marijuana coming from the house.

It is also clear, based on a recent Florida court case, that the police cannot walk a drug dog onto a person’s property to smell for drugs without a search warrant or consent. However, one of the police officers said he smelled marijuana coming from the house. The other police officer, likely a newer police officer, admitted that he did not smell marijuana coming from the house. The police officers also reported that all of the blinds were closed, there were three cars in the driveway and the air conditioning was running continuously. Based on that, they searched the house, found many marijuana plants and arrested the occupant for trafficking in cannabis/marijuana.

The evidence of the drug dog alert was inadmissible because walking the drug dog onto the property without a warrant or consent was not legal. The court still held that the search was valid based on the conflicting evidence of the odor of marijuana, the cars in the driveway, the blinds and the air conditioner.

This appears to be weak justification to allow the police to invade the privacy of a person in his/her home. In order to search a person’s house, the police need specific indications that drug or other evidence of criminal activity is occurring in the house. Notwithstanding the conflicting testimony about the odor of marijuana, it is not clear what is suspicious about an air conditioner constantly running in South Florida, three cars in the driveway and a house with the blinds closed. On any given day, that could certainly be my house. Nevertheless, the court allowed the search and upheld the conviction for trafficking in marijuana.

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