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Affirming the 4th: Scalia nails it

| Friday, March 29, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Again reaffirming the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that police who lack probable cause — and have neither a warrant nor permission to search — can't base an arrest on a dog sniffing drugs from a home's front porch.

That's what police did at the Florida home of Joelis Jardines before charging him in a marijuana-growing operation. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the trial court and the Florida Supreme Court that marijuana plants seized after the dog indicated their presence in Mr. Jardines' home couldn't be used as evidence against him because the search violated the Fourth Amendment.

Writing for the majority in the 5-4 decision, Justice Antonin Scalia noted that case law holds that the Fourth Amendment's “right of the people to be secure in their ... houses” takes in the immediate surrounding area, such as a front porch, and includes the right to be free from “unreasonable governmental intrusion” at home.

“This right would be of little practical value if the State's agents could stand in a home's porch or side garden and trawl for evidence with impunity,” Mr. Justice Scalia wrote.

That's a welcome reminder that police must follow the Fourth Amendment, by demonstrating probable cause and obtaining a warrant from a judge before searching a home — and that Americans remain protected against the sort of “fishing expedition” that Florida police carried out at Jardines' home. Period.

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