The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided a criminal case that has implications for your rights here in Ohio.
The facts went like this. Police in Florida took a drug-sniffing dog to a family’s front porch, where the dog gave a positive alert for drugs. Based on the dog’s alert, the officers got a search warrant, and found marijuana plants inside the house. The owners were charged with marijuana trafficking.
The question for the Court was whether the police had probable cause to search the house. If they didn’t, the search and anything found during the search of the house would be thrown out.
The Court found that the porch and the area around your house — called the “curtilage” — is part of the house for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. This means that the police can’t search the porch — with a drug dog or otherwise — without a warrant. Specifically, the Court found that a police officer — like any private citizen — may approach a home in hopes of speaking to its occupants without a warrant. BUT, the scope of the officer’s right to approach the house is limited to a particular area (the front door) and to a specific purpose (speaking to the occupants). An officer is not permitted to just walk up to a house and search the front porch without probable cause.
The full opinion in the case — Florida v. Jardines, Supreme Court No. 11-564 (2013)