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A Better Partnership
June 09, 2013

MSC recognizes that police may not use drug-sniffing dogs to search the curtilage of a defendant's home without a warrant

In lieu of granting leave to appeal, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' April 10, 2012 judgment and reinstated the trial court's November 23, 2010 order in People v. Holt. In light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409 (2013), the Michigan Supreme Court recognized that police may not employ drug-sniffing dogs in the curtilage of a defendant's home without a warrant. Since police did not obtain a warrant before using dogs in Mr. Holt's case, the evidence was properly suppressed by the trial court.

Holt was charged with possession of less than 25 grams of cocaine, possession of marijuana, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony after the execution of a search warrant at the defendant's residence. The affidavit for the warrant stated that after receiving complaints about distribution of controlled substances at the residence, the affiant monitored the residence and observed a man leave it with a black bag. The following day, a police canine handler with a drug-sniffing dog went to the front door of the residence, and the dog indicated the presence of narcotics. Police subsequently obtained and executed the warrant and seized evidence from defendant's residence.

The defendant moved to suppress this evidence, arguing that the use of a drug-sniffing dog at a residence without a legitimate basis was improper, and that the affidavit did not provide probable cause for issuance of a warrant without the dog's positive response. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the charges. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the trial court erred in failing to follow People v. Jones, 279 Mich. App. 86, 755 N.W.2d 224 (2008), which found that a canine sniff at the front door of a defendant's house is not a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

The application for leave to appeal the Court of Appeals' judgment was previously held in abeyance pending two U.S. Supreme Court cases which were recently decided. The Michigan Supreme Court found the facts of this case to be similar to those of Florida v. Jardines, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the employment of a drug-sniffing dog within the curtilage of the defendant's home without a search warrant was a violation of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Based on the prosecutor's concession that absent the canine sniff the warrant was not supported by probable cause, and the reasoning provided by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Michigan Supreme Court concluded that the trial court properly granted the defendant's motion to suppress the evidence seized in the search of his home.

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