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Drug-Sniffing Dog Case Fails Supreme Court's Smell Test

The U.S. Supreme Court turned up its nose a bit Tuesday on the use of drug-sniffing dogs, ruling that the Fourth Amendment limits the ability of police to use the animals near a home.

By a 5-4 vote, the high court upheld a Florida ruling that suppressed evidence found in a marijuana possession case, after a police drug-sniffing dog was brought near a home and alerted officers. The Florida court rejected the evidence, saying officers did not have probable cause to use the dog.

In the majority opinion in Florida v. Jardines, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that a house and its surroundings have Fourth Amendment protections, and noted that the homeowner in the case had not given permission to the police to use the dog.

"To find a visitor knocking on the door is routine (even if sometimes unwelcome); to spot that same visitor exploring the front path with a metal detector, or marching his bloodhound into the garden before saying hello and asking permission, would inspire most of us to — well, call the police," Scalia wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel Alito noted that a police officer also detected the smell of marijuana upon approaching the house. "The conduct of the police officer in this case did not constitute a trespass and did not violate respondent's reasonable expectations of privacy," Alito wrote.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan voted with Scalia in the majority. Dissenting along with Alito were Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer.

SCOTUSblog has more on the case.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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