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Drug-Sniffing Dog Will Get His Day At U.S. Supreme Court

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Franky the drug-sniffing dog. | ap
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WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of a police dog's warrantless sniff outside a suspected marijuana grow house in Florida.

The case, Florida v. Jardines, comes up from the state Supreme Court, which ruled that Franky the narcotics dog's outside odor detection was "a substantial government intrusion into the sanctity of the home and constitutes a 'search' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment." Florida's high court pointed to a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, that found police use of a thermo-imaging device to detect tell-tale heat emanating from a suspected grow house violated the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches.

But in its petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, the state of Florida argued that the justices' rationale in the earlier case rested on the fact that the heat-seeking device would detect more than illegal activities. It would also violate a person's legitimate privacy interests, such as (to quote Scalia) "at what hour each night the lady of the house takes her daily sauna and bath."

Franky's nose is trained to sense only contraband that people have no legal interest in possessing, Florida wrote. And in 2005 the high court reaffirmed its belief, stated in earlier cases, that dog sniffs do not violate the Fourth Amendment -- at least when it comes to cars and luggage.

Leaning heavily on those earlier dog-sniff decisions, Florida wrote that its case depends on "the nature of the dog's nose, not the area being searched."

The justices will likely hear oral argument in the case in April and hand down a decision by the end of June.

Friday's order list gave no indication of whether the Court has denied or held over for a later conference another closely watched petition seeking to end the ban on noncitizens' contributions to federal elections.

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