Walking Onto Private Property

by Charles Gillingham

Florida v. Jardines 2013 W.L. 1196577

Did the Supreme Court Limit an Officer's ability to go to the front door of a private residence?

Yes, in some circumstances.

Readers of the Training Bulletin will remember the USSC's recent decision in Jones that held placing a GPS device on a suspect's car was a 4th Amendment violation and thus necessitated the acquisition of a warrant prior to putting the GPS monitor on a vehicle. The decision was based on what the Supreme Court held to be the trespass theory of 4th Amendment jurisprudence. In short, if an officer trespasses on personal property the 4th Amendment is violated. In Florida v. Jardines, the Court extended the trespass theory (while renaming it "intrusion") to private property.


A Miami officer got an anonymous tip that Jardines was growing marijuana in his house. So the officer and a K9 handler walked a dope sniffing dog up to the front porch of the residence in question. While at the front porch the dog reacted to the base of the front door. The K9 handler explained that the dog is trained to alert at the strongest odor point. The officers were at the front door for no more than two minutes. The Officers then sought and obtained a search warrant for the residence based on the K9 alert. The search resulted in the seizure of marijuana, the cultivation and trafficking of which Jardines was convicted. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence. The Florida Supreme Court agreed, and the State of Florida appealed the suppression of the marijuana to the USSC.



The court held that anytime an officer seeks to gather information by entering the front yard or the curtilage of the home that entry is a search. That is now the law of the land.

The only question in this case then was whether there was some exception. Historically, homeowners give implied consent to the public, and police officers, to approach the front door. The court affirmed that historic understanding, provided that officers do no more than "the nation's Girl Scouts and trick-or-treaters" do when they approach a front door---knock on the door, wait briefly to be received, and if not, leave. The court held that residents do not consent to police officers lingering on the front step with an investigative tool such as a K9.


There are a few things officers should be mindful of that come from this decision. When officers are conducting knock and talks, this decision will rule illegal anything done at the front door beyond knocking and waiting to be invited to stay. For instance, if after knocking and no one comes to the door----you linger, look through windows, step off the porch, go in areas that are not normally used to get to the front door, or if the resident comes to the door and they say they don't want to talk to you and you stay at the door and try to engage them, each of those activities may get any resulting evidence suppressed.

The bottom line result here is stay on the walkways and stay on the porch. You can knock, wait for a response and then have to leave and you may not bring any investigative tool to the door with you nor should you linger at the door.