Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Howard Blumberg was used to waiting for opinions in the dog drug-sniffing case.
He made oral arguments at the Third District Court of Appeal in 2008, at the Florida Supreme Court in 2011 and at the U.S. Supreme Court last October.
On Tuesday a split U.S. Supreme Court  ruled, 5-4 that two Miami-Dade detectives needed a search warrant before bringing a police dog to the front porch of a home they suspected was a marijuana grow house.
"A superstitious lawyer like myself never likes to say he’s confident about a case," Blumberg said. "I was happy with the way the oral argument went but was absolutely in no way confident that this would be the decision."
The justices ruled, 5-4, in favor of defendant Joelis Jardines, who was arrested in December 2006 for trafficking in cannabis and grand theft after an anonymous tip resulted in the police canine Franky sniffing at the door.
"As it is undisputed that the detectives had all four of their feet and all four of their companion’s firmly planted on the constitutionally protected extension of Jardines’ home, the only question is whether he had given his leave (even implicitly) for them to do so. He had not," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority.
After Franky gave his alert, detectives obtained a warrant and confiscated 179 marijuana plants. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas threw out the evidence seized inside the home, a decision later reversed by the Third District but upheld by the state Supreme Court.
Justice Samuel Alito Jr. led the dissent, saying the drug-sniffing dog did not violate Jardines’ reasonable expectations of privacy.
"[I]n the entire body of common-law decisions, the court has not found a single case holding that a visitor to the front door of a home commits a trespass if the visitor is accompanied by a dog on a leash," he wrote.
Blumberg, who has been at the public defender’s office for 34 years, called the decision "very narrow" but said it’s still an important Fourth Amendment constitutional right.
"It’s not just homeowners, it’s for all citizens. You don’t have to own a home to be protected under these circumstances," Blumberg said.
Gregory Garre, a partner in the Washington office of Latham & Watkins who represented the state of Florida, argued that it wasn’t illegal for a police officer to sniff for marijuana outside a door, so it shouldn’t be illegal for a dog like Franky to do the same thing.
But Scalia, Blumberg said, relied heavily on his reasoning last year in U.S. v. Jones, which decided police also need a warrant to place a GPS unit under a suspect’s car. That opinion was handed down Jan. 23, 2012, two weeks after the court said it would consider the Jardines case.
"It’s really the dream of any appellate lawyer to argue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, but very few lawyers get the opportunity," Blumberg said of his first and only appearance there.
Blumberg said he was also pleased by the coincidental timing of the opinion a week after the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, which established the right of indigent defendants to counsel even in non-capital cases.
Brett Steinberg, who successfully argued the original motion to suppress as an assistant public defender, said he found only one case on point in 2006.
"It was kind of an isolated decision. I took it to Howard, and he said, ‘Let’s go for it,’ " said Steinberg, an associate with Hicks, Motto & Ehrlich in Palm Beach Gardens. "I’ve been waiting for this decision to come out for months now. I’m elated."
This was the second case argued at the U.S. Supreme Court by the public defender’s office, he said. Colleague Harvey Sepler handled Florida v. J.L., another Fourth Amendment case in which police officers stopped a juvenile based on an anonymous tip that he was carrying a concealed weapon. Sepler won his case, too.
Franky, a chocolate Labrador, has since retired from police work.
Jardines, now 40, is behind bars at the Charlotte Correctional Institution in Punta Gorda. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beth Bloom sentenced him last July to 75 months in prison on an unrelated charge of armed robbery with a firearm and aggravated assault of a person 65 or older.
Blumberg planned to notify him of the ruling later Tuesday.
"After all, it was he whose Fourth Amendment rights were violated," Blumberg said. "It really is a very significant decision on the Fourth Amendment right of everyone on the place they live."