Runner-Up Best Oralist
The United States of America, Petitioner v. Nathan Mahoney, Respondent
On October 15, 2008, the Dade City Police Department received an anonymous tip from an unidentified caller that there was “a ton” of marijuana plants being grown at 1537 Paper Street. Detective Timothy Bayliss called local DEA Agent Kay Howard, aware that her agency recently raided several such houses in the city. A week later, Bayliss and Howard parked across the street from the one-story house and watched for about fifteen minutes. They observed that the window blinds were closed and that there were several air conditioning units installed.
Bayliss and Howard decided to knock on the front door of the house and see if anyone was at home. Bayliss brought along Sparky, a police dog trained to assist in narcotics investigations by finding illegal drugs, and in arson investigations by locating accelerants. After walking Sparky up the driveway, across the lawn, and up onto the unscreened front porch, the dog sniffed intently at the front door and paced back and forth for three or four minutes.
Agent Howard applied for a search warrant, stating that she believed the home was being used as part of a marijuana hydroponics grow lab. After executing the warrant on the home, investigators discovered 150 marijuana plants growing in a bedroom that had been converted into a hydroponic lab. The homeowner, Nathan Mahoney, arrived home soon after and was arrested. During his arrest, he stated, “You can’t treat me like this! I fought in Afghanistan and have two Purple Hearts.” Mahoney had made similar claims during two Dade City council meetings while advocating against higher property taxes. In addition to the drug charge, Mahoney was arrested for violating the Stolen Valor Act, which criminalizes false claims of having earned military honors.
Mahoney moved to suppress evidence of the search, arguing that the dog sniff of his home was an illegal search done without probable cause. He also moved to dismiss the indictment on the Stolen Valor charges, claiming the Act was unconstitutional on its face because it infringed his First Amendment rights. Both motions were denied and Mahoney was convicted, but the Fourteenth Circuit reversed the convictions. The government now appeals that decision to the United States Supreme Court.