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Florida Cop Dresses as Electric Company Worker to Snoop For Pot Without Warrant

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Florida cops, it seems, will do just about anything to find that marijuana plant growing in your closet. The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether Miami police violated the Constitution by routinely sniffing around suspected grow houses with drug-smelling dogs without first getting a search warrant.

In Tampa, meanwhile, police are dealing with backlash this morning after admitting in court they used a list of questionable tactics in pot busts, including dressing up as electric company workers to get into houses and spying on customers at a hydroponics shop using a hidden camera -- all without warrants.

The revelations came during a hearing with an attorney representing a number of people arrested on marijuana charges in Pinellas County.

A detective named Paul Giovannoni admitted that he'd approached one man's house wearing a Progress Energy shirt and let a homeowner take him around into the house's backyard believing he was there to check the meters.

Giovannoni had no warrant or probable cause to search the house, he admitted, but said "it was just a ruse ... to see if I smelled marijuana."

The Pinellas Sheriffs recently suspended another detective after the Tampa Bay Times revealed the force had secretly placed a video camera outside a hydroponics shop in Largo, Florida, and used the footage to track the store's customers.

The county's sheriff, Bob Gualtieri, tells the Times he's "appalled" by such tactics and promised to institute a new rule that cops can't wear other companies uniforms to get into houses without a warrant.

What, exactly, does it say about Florida cops' knowledge of basic civil liberties if you need to make it clear that posing as an electric man to test your hunch that a house has pot inside is a no-no?

"That's obviously an illegal tactic to pretend that you work for Progress Energy to get on someone's property," Bruce Jacob, a Stetson University law professor, tells the Times.

In another civil rights-bending pot case, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Jan. 7 to review a Miami case called Florida v. Jardines.

A Miami-Dade police team in 2006 used a drug-sniffing dog at a house belonging to Joelis Jardines. The cops only "evidence" that Jardines' place was a grow house was that his air conditioner was running non-stop.

Jardines was arrested after the dog smelled pot and police busted in. The Florida Supreme Court sided with Jardines that police should have gotten a warrant before letting their dog loose on his property; the Supremes haven't set a date yet to hear the case.

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