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Recent Supreme Court Cases

Written by Randy Means, Zachary Miller

"From K9 searches to DNA samples"

 

 

Recent Supreme Court Cases

By: Zachary Miller and Randy Means

 

Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. (2013)

Officers from the Miami-Dade Police Department and the DEA received a tip that Joelis Jardines was growing marijuana inside his home. After a short period of surveillance, two Miami-Dade officers approached the front door of Jardines’ house with a drug detection canine. At this point, the officers did not have probable cause. As they approached the front porch, the dog began to alert to the presence of narcotics and began to focus on the area where the scent was strongest—the front door. Based on the tip and dog alert, a search warrant was obtained and executed later that day. 

Jardines was home during the search warrant execution and was arrested and charged with trafficking marijuana. Prior to his trial, Jardines argued that the use of the scent detection canine near the front door of his single-family home was a search without probable cause or a warrant and that the resulting search warrant and evidence should be suppressed.

The trial court agreed, ruling that the use of the canine was a search under the Fourth Amendment. Since the State had conceded that the officers lacked probable cause at the time the dog was taken to the front door, the trial court held the search to be unreasonable. All downstream evidence was suppressed and the government appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the use of the drug detection canine in this case was indeed a search under the Fourth Amendment. The Court followed closely the reasoning it used last term in United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. (2012) in which the Court held that the attachment of a GPS device to a vehicle was a search under the “physical intrusion upon a constitutionally protected area” prong of the Fourth Amendment definition of a search. 

In Jardines, officers physically intruded upon another constitutionally protected area—the curtilage of the home—with the intent to gather information. And, just as in Jones, the Court declined to address the second prong of the search inquiry—whether there was an intrusion upon a reasonable expectation of privacy. In both Jones and Jardines, the Court did not rule on the reasonableness of the warrantless law enforcement action, deferring that judgment instead to the lower courts.

This case does not change the longstanding understanding that a law enforcement officer may lawfully approach a residence by using a common pathway to the front door in order to speak with an occupant and the officer need not have any particular factual justification for doing so.  The reasoning is simple—any non-law enforcement individual may lawfully do the same thing.  It is only when a law enforcement officer brings with him a specialized investigative tool—i.e., a drug detection canine—that the officer has intruded on Fourth Amendment interests. 

 

Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. (2013)

Tyler McNeely was stopped for a traffic offense and subsequently arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. He refused to submit to a mandatory breath test under state law. The arresting officer transported McNeely to a local hospital where McNeely refused to submit to a blood test. The officer then ordered the nurse to draw blood from McNeely and his blood was taken against his will.  There was no search warrant. 

During his trial, McNeely argued that the warrantless, non-consensual blood draw was an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The State countered with the argument that the blood draw was a reasonable search under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. The exigency, according to the State, was the fact that critical evidence of the crime, the concentration of alcohol in McNeely’s blood, was dissipating with the passage of time.

In a 9-0 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court held that in a “routine DWI investigation” the mere fact that blood alcohol concentration evidence is being lost to the passage of time does not give rise to an exigency that excuses the lack of a search warrant. The State had based its argument for a per se rule allowing warrantless blood draws in all DWI cases on the Court’s holding in Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757 (1966). In Schmerber, the Court upheld a warrantless blood draw in a DWI case where the arrestee had been transported to the hospital due to injuries that he sustained in an automobile accident. 

There were three factors that the Court cited as relevant in determining that exigent circumstances existed in Schmerber: 1) the arrestee was transported to the hospital due to injuries he received; 2) the time that it took for the police to investigate at the scene of the accident; and 3) the natural dissipation of blood alcohol concentration evidence with the passage of time. 

In McNeely, the only factor was the loss of evidence dilemma. Although McNeely was at the hospital as the arrestee was in Schmerber, McNeely was taken there by the police for the sole purpose of drawing his blood after he refused to submit to a breath test. The Court in McNeely also referenced the technological innovations that have occurred in the years since Schmerber that allow the police in many states to obtain search warrants electronically without having to appear in person before a magistrate.

 

Maryland v. King, 569 U.S. (2013) 

Alonzo King was arrested on felony assault charges and, as part of the routine booking procedure for serious offenses under Maryland law, a DNA sample was taken from him using a buccal swab. This DNA sample was later uploaded into a database where a match was obtained from an unsolved rape case. At his trial for the rape, King argued that the DNA sample taken as part of the booking procedure for the assault arrest was an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The trial court disagreed and he was convicted of the rape.

In a 5-4 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, although the taking of a DNA sample by means of a buccal swab is undoubtedly a Fourth Amendment search, it was nonetheless reasonable as part of the routine booking procedure following arrest for a serious offense. The Court reasoned that the taking of such a sample is minimally invasive and compared it to other routine booking procedures such as fingerprinting and photographing. 

DNA analysis, according to the Court, serves a legitimate law enforcement interest—the need to accurately identify an arrestee and the arrestee’s criminal history—and this need outweighs an arrestee’s reasonable expectation of privacy regarding this identifying information. The Supreme Court placed emphasis on the fact that King was arrested for a serious offense and stated so directly in the holding of the case. It is highly unlikely that the Court would be willing to extend this approval of DNA sampling procedure to arrests for minor offenses. 

The Court also noted that the DNA sampling was done pursuant to a state law that specified the types of offenses that qualified for sampling, that the law only allowed the DNA information to be uploaded to the database after arraignment and the law required the destruction of the sample and its removal from the database if the defendant is not convicted. The Court’s decision here would probably not extend to DNA sampling and analysis in a jurisdiction without similar safeguards.

 

Randy Means is a partner in Thomas & Means, a law firm specializing entirely in police operations and administration. He has served the national law enforcement community full time for more than 30 years and is the author of “The Law of Policing,” which is available at LRIS.com. He can be reached directly at rbmeans@aol.com.

 

Zachary Miller is a Virginia police officer who teaches in-service law classes for his own agency and basic-training law classes for a regional police academy. Officer Miller also provides research assistance to author Randy Means, an attorney and 33-year police legal advisor who provides training and consulting services to law enforcement agencies nationwide.


Published in Law and Order, Nov 2013

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