Sunday, November 19, 2017
Editorials

Privacy rights at stake in two Florida cases

RECOMMENDED READING


The nation's decades-long war on drugs also has been a war on privacy. Bit by bit the courts have watered down federal constitutional protections against unreasonable searches by giving police ever wider discretion to search cars and property. Two drug-related cases from Florida are set to be heard today by the U.S. Supreme Court that will decide whether privacy rights will be further eroded.

One case asks whether police can bring drug-sniffing dogs to a home's front door without a warrant. The other will determine whether an alert by a drug-sniffing police dog standing alone is sufficient to conduct a lawful search. The Florida Supreme Court in both cases correctly came down on the side of privacy rights.

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. Generally that means law enforcement must obtain a warrant or have probable cause of criminal activity before conducting an intrusive search. But the cases of Florida vs. Jardines and Florida vs. Harris raise the specter of police conducting dragnet operations against innocent owners — precisely what the Fourth Amendment is designed to prevent.

In Jardines, a drug detection dog with the Miami-Dade Police Department was brought to the front door of a residential house for a "sniff test." It alerted to the odor of narcotics, police obtained a search warrant, and marijuana was found growing in the house.

Typically when drug-sniffing dogs are used around cars during a traffic stop or on luggage at airports the courts have found those acts so minimally intrusive that they don't constitute a government search and no probable cause is necessary. But the Florida Supreme Court appropriately rejected that view for a private home.

Similarly in Harris, the Florida Supreme Court put reasonable limits on what constitutes a lawful search. The court said that an alert by a drug detection dog justifies the search of a vehicle only when the dog's skills are reliable. Numerous studies have shown that drug detection dogs are not foolproof. They too easily alert for reasons other than the presence of narcotics, such as miscues by their handlers or residual smells.

In the Harris case the same drug detection dog alerted to Clayton Harris' truck twice over two months. The first time the dog alerted to a drug it had not been trained to sniff out. The second time it alerted but no drugs were found, raising obvious concerns about the dog's abilities. The Florida Supreme Court threw out the drug evidence from the first search.

These drug-related cases have implications for the privacy rights of every American. The Florida Supreme Court's rulings hold the government to its duty to leave people alone absent evidence of criminal activity, a principle the U.S. Supreme Court should affirm by leaving the rulings in place.

Comments

Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "I’m pleading to my brothers. You ...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

St. Petersburg City Council members are poised to raise the minimum wage for contractors who do business with the city, a well-intended but misguided ordinance that should be reconsidered. The hourly minimum wage undoubtedly needs to rise — for every...
Published: 11/16/17

Editorial: Make workplaces welcoming, not just free of harassment

A federal trial began last week in the sex discrimination case that a former firefighter lodged against the city of Tampa. Tanja Vidovic describes a locker-room culture at Tampa Fire Rescue that created a two-tier system — one for men, another for wo...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Barely a week after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman promised to unite the city following a bitter and divisive campaign, his administration has fired an employee who dared to criticize him. It seems Kriseman’s own mantra of "moving St. Pete forwar...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

The University of South Florida recently surpassed its $1 billion fundraising goal, continuing a current trend of exceeding expectations. At 61 years old — barely middle age among higher education institutions — USF has grown up quickly. It now boast...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

American military members hurt in service to their country should not have to wait a lifetime for the benefits they deserve. But that’s a reality of the disability process at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which hasn’t made payi...
Published: 11/14/17

Editorial: Deputies’ rescue reflects best in law enforcement

The bravery two Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies showed a week ago is a credit to them and reflects the professionalism of the office.Deputies Benjamin Thompson and Trent Migues responded at dusk Nov. 11 after 82-year-old Leona Evans of Webster...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/17/17

Another voice: An untrustworthy deal with Russia

President Donald Trump’s latest defense of Russian leader Vladimir Putin included — along with a bow to his denials of meddling in the U.S. election — an appeal to pragmatism. "Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,"...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/14/17