Canine sniff not allowed, but convictions still upheld

Although a Supreme Court of the United States decision issued shortly after the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on a case now means that a canine sniff of a suspected drug dealer’s home was unconstitutional, the COA upheld the man’s convictions based on other evidence.

Ignacio Perez was charged with Class A felony dealing in cocaine and Class A misdemeanor resisting law enforcement, which he challenged on interlocutory appeal just before the SCOTUS released Florida v. Jardines, 133 S. Ct. 1409 (2013). Police linked Perez to several undercover drug deals as the potential source of the cocaine. When police arrived at his house, Perez stepped on to his porch and locked the door behind him. He eventually became agitated and resisted being handcuffed. Police then called in a canine to sniff the front door area, which alerted them to the presence of illegal drugs.

The COA upheld the charges in 2013; he was later convicted as charged.

In Ignacio Perez v. State of Indiana, h20A03-1407-CR-236, Perez raises the same issues he brought in his interlocutory appeal except one – that Jardines is applicable and therefore the canine sniff was unconstitutional. The judges determined that the law of case doctrine applies to all his claims except the canine sniff.

In Jardines, the SCOTUS held that bringing a police dog onto a person’s porch or near the front door to sniff is unconstitutional. Social norms that invite a visitor to the front door to knock and see if someone is home do not invite him there to conduct a search, the justices held.

Jardines controls here. Although the officers had a license to approach Perez’s porch and front door to conduct a knock-and-talk, they did not have a similar license to conduct a warrantless search there, with a dog or otherwise. Consent to talk at one’s door does not provide consent to search the curtilage of one’s home,” Judge Edward Najam wrote. “Thus, we hold that the warrantless canine sniff of Perez’s front door physically intruded onto the curtilage of his home and, therefore, was an unconstitutional search in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

“Although the police violated Perez’s Fourth Amendment rights by conducting the canine sniff, we nevertheless hold that the probable cause affidavit contained sufficient information, independent of that obtained by the unconstitutional search at the door, to supply probable cause for the warrant to search the interior of Perez’s home. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it admitted evidence of the narcotics and paraphernalia found inside of Perez’s home pursuant to that warrant.”

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