In November 2006, an anonymous tipster informed police that Joelis Jardines might be growing marijuana at his house just south of Miami. Miami-Dade police and DEA agents began a surveillance operation outside the house. After a month of gathering intelligence on Jardines, police were ready to move in. Officer Bartlet showed up with Franky, a gregarious chocolate lab with a well-trained nose. Franky sniffed at the base of the front door, and quickly sat, alerting the officers to the presence of drugs.
The police used Franky’s training and actions to request a search warrant, and detailed Franky’s impressive law enforcement history. Franky has participated in 656 narcotics detection tasks, with 399 positive alerts that have led officers to 13,008 grams of cocaine, 2,638 grams of heroin, 180 grams of methamphetamine, and 936,614 grams of both processed and live-growing marijuana.
Armed with this information, officers succeeded in obtaining a search warrant for Jardines’ house. While executing the search warrant, police arrested Jardines as he tried to flee from the house. During the search, the officers confiscated 179 marijuana plants with a street value of over $700,000.
Jardines was charged with drug trafficking and grand larceny for stealing electricity to grow the plants. Jardines pleaded not guilty, and challenged the warrant and the search.
The trial court agreed with Jardines, tossing the evidence seized in the search. Florida’s intermediate appeals court disagreed, finding the search constitutional. The Florida Supreme Court sided with the trial court and ruled for Jardines. Now Florida prosecutors are pursuing the case to the United States Supreme Court.
This would not be the first K-9 case in the United States Supreme Court. But if the Supreme Court takes this case, the Justices can examine the difference between “open fields,” which are fair game for a search, and “curtilage,” the area surrounding a house that is still constitutionally protected. Also up for discussion is whether the “plain view” doctrine – allowing officers to search and seize anything they can see in the open from a lawful vantage point – should be expanded to include the “plain sniff” doctrine.
The Justices would also have to grapple with a case called Kyllo, relied on by the Florida Supreme Court to side with Jardines. Kyllo held that use of a thermal imager constituted an unlawful search because it revealed “intimate details,” namely the ambient temperature, inside a house. The Justices could easily decide that using Franky is not the same as using sense-enhancing technology such as a thermal imager, and that unlike the thermal imager that can relate to both lawful and unlawful activity, Franky is specifically trained to detect and alert to only unlawful substances.
To follow whether the Supreme Court takes this case, and to find a link to the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion, visit SCOTUSblog. For more information and pictures of Franky in action, take a look at this AP article by Curt Anderson.